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'Biggest Loser' strike ends as producers, crew members settle dispute

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees reaches an agreement that will allow union members to count their work hours toward health insurance benefits.

November 23, 2010|By Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times

Producers and crew members of the reality TV series "The Biggest Loser" have settled a labor dispute, ending a high-profile strike that disrupted production of the NBC reality series.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees reached an agreement this weekend with production companies Reveille, 3 Ball and 25/7 to end a nearly two-week strike, the parties said in a statement Monday.

About 50 crew members unanimously approved the agreement Monday morning, allowing them to count their work hours toward their health insurance benefits, a top goal for the union.

Health benefits have been a front-burner issue for IATSE members, who must work a minimum of 300 hours every six months in order to secure or retain health insurance coverage. But starting next summer, the threshold will rise to 400 hours, making it harder for members to be covered.

The breakthrough occurred this weekend after marathon talks between producers and Matt Loeb, the head of IATSE. The union represents about 35,000 technical and crafts workers employed in the film and TV industry.

"The agreement is a positive step forward for the crew of the 'Biggest Loser,' especially in the area of health benefits,'' said Mike Miller, vice president of the IATSE. "We are pleased to see them go back to work."

Lee Rierson, managing director and head of business operations for Reveille, said the sides had reached a "fair agreement" while "managing to avoid significant disruption to the production, and are happy to see our entire crew working together again."

IATSE officials said they targeted "Biggest Loser" because it represents one of the last high-rated reality series on network TV that is not covered under the union's contract.

Organizing nonunion labor in the film and television industries, especially in the reality-TV sector, has been a priority for IATSE, which already covers such popular shows as "American Idol" and "Dancing with the Stars" and recently reached an agreement to cover crews that work on "The Bachelor," among other reality programs.

Crew members walked off the job Nov. 8, saying producers had refused to have their work covered under an IATSE contract. The Directors Guild of America and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists already had contracts covering their workers on the show.

Production of the series resumed last week when producers recruited replacement workers, but it was disrupted by pickets organized by IATSE at the Calabasas ranch studio where "Biggest Loser" is filmed. The union also enlisted the support of the Los Angeles County and state labor federations, which vowed to join the picket lines.

The show's trainers also refused to cross picket lines and, with the host, pledged to auction themselves on EBay to raise money for the strikers.

"Biggest Loser," in which overweight contestants compete for prize money by shedding pounds, is currently filming its 11th season and has been a hit for NBC.

richard.verrier@latimes.com

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