LIVE From Times Square: Viacom Walkout!

SAI correspondent Davide Berretta is live in Times Square, on the scene of the Viacom walkout to protest shoddy treatment of freelancers. We’ll update reports as we get them:

3:51 pm: New chants: “Dental! Healthcare! 401k!”

The protest leader seems to be a shortish, youngish guy with glasses. He’s standing on a trashcan, giving the crowd a peptalk and telling them to stay focused.

Lots of stories from people who’ve been employed at MTV Networks for years as permalancers. “Mike G” tells me he’s been working production at VH1 for 5 years. “The ratings are up, the revenue is up, and we’re the ones taking the cuts,” he says. “They’re going to lose lots of workers here.”

Someone who tells me he’s worked in production for Nickelodeon for 10 years is upset because of Viacom’s communication style: The health care cutbacks are being presented as a “richer” plan. Now he has to find three new doctors; he has a baby.

The protesters are still going strong, but they’re not raising hell, either. A few tourists are taking pictures but most walk by. Occasionally someone peers out of the windows of the MTV studio at 1515 Broadway. The crowd boos them, and then their heads disappear…

[More quotes, photos, after the jump]

3:26 pm: Now it’s a real protest! There are about 150 to 200 people here [about the number organisers had hoped for]. They are holding up signs and wearing buttons with MTV’s iconic “M” logo turned upside down, and the “TV” letters replaced with “TF”. So it says “WTF?” Get it?

The day’s main chants: “Shame on Viacom!” and “We Work Here Too!”

V.A., who tells me she has worked at Viacom for 3 years as a senior designer, says she has cancer and will have to quit unless her benefits are restored or upgraded. “This is a very critical moment in our lives, and it was announced with 3 weeks notice,” she says. She’s upset that freelancers and “real” Viacom employees do the same work but aren’t treated equally. “I have titles, I have business cards, I have responsibilities,” she says.

Rick Taylor, an editor at MTV, has been here for a year. He’s wearing a shirt that says “MTV: Putting the Free Into Freelancers.” He’s upset about the way the company has handled communications about the changes; he’s been getting his news from blogs.

2:55 pm. I’m here five minutes early, but right now I outnumber the protesters. There are a bunch of people standing around, but they’re trying to get  passes to “TRL” which tapes on Mondays and Tuesdays. There are also some people smoking, and some people giving away free tickets to comedy shows.

Followup: Viacom Freelancers Raised A Ruckus. Did It Work?

Related: Viacom Freelancers To Protest Benefit Cuts
Viacom: Cutting Back On Freelance Benefits

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