Of Oprah, Conan, Unions, Strikes and Cabbages and Kings

Recently, there was something of a scandal that took place on several blogs.  Accusations were made that Oprah Winfrey, a major supporter of Barack Obama’s candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President, was an anti-union employer.  This was in rather short order, proved untrue, although many people voiced concern that the creative staff of Oprah’s talk show are not members of the Writers Guild of America, as is common for the staffs of most talk shows.

This was of particular concern to me.  I am a member of the WGA, but for a longer time and more importantly, I am a member of the International Association of Theatrical Stage Engineers, or IATSE.  It has been demonstrated by others that Oprah does employ members of the IATSE, but I called the offices of IATSE Local 2, which represents stagehands in Chicago, and IATSE Local 476, which represents studio mechanics there.  Both offices confirmed that Oprah employs members of both unions.

Another major issue regarding the WGA and the strike happened yesterday, as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Night with Conan O’Brian announced that they would resume airing, without writing staffs, this January.

As this is a major issue, for pretty much everyone, since whether or not you are a supporter of unions (and if you read this site, you almost certainly are) you are probably a consumer of television and film.  To do this, I must explain some basic things about unions in my industry, film and television.

A Request to Management re: Digby

As a member of the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees, known as IATSE, I am formally requesting that the site de-link Digby (listed on our links under “The Usual Suspects”), due to her failure to repudiate the smear, largely spread by her in the blog community, that Oprah Winfrey is anti-union and runs a non-union shop.  Even after absolute confirmation of her use of the members of several locals of my union, she has maintained that her post was legitimate.

While I am also a member of the Writer’s Guild of America, as a member of IATSE, I know who the real working class union workers in my industry are.  It is the camerapeople, the grips, electricians, hair and makeup and wardrobe artists, the carpenters and scenics and props.  These are the people who work 12-16 hour days, without fame or great financial rewards.  More than anyone else, it is they who are being hurt by the WGA strike and other more glamorous union agitation, and who are doing so generally silently and without complaint.  They did not have the opportunity to sell as many scripts as they could to stock up for the strike.  They did not have minimum payment of over $30,000 for each half-hour of television.  They do not earn residual payments when their work is reused by networks.

This is not about Barack Obama.  The IATSE earlier this month endorsed Sen. Clinton for President.  But pretending that our employment, and the running of union shops for television technicians is not as important, and indeed far more important, than whether or not the “writing” staff of Oprah is unionized spits in the face of the claims that we are the allies of the unionized working men and women of America.

Digby will not be hurt by, or even notice our delinking.  But while the lions of the blogging left have been silent over her being bamboozled by an obscure rag, we who are trying to do something different with a group blog can make a statement.  A statement about who we are, and what we believe, and the value of truth.