Viacom Freelancers Raise A Ruckus. Did It Work?

Congratulations, Viacom freelancers. Over the past few days you’ve made quite a racket: First via the Web and now in Times Square. And from what we can tell, your employers are paying attention.

The bad news: You’re still getting your benefits cut back. The official statement from Viacom officials:

We respect the rights of our freelance and temporary employees to express their opinions on the changes that have been made to their benefits and programs. We heard their concerns and modified the programs, last week, based on their feedback. All benefits programs in our company and in our industry have undergone change, and our new programs and policies are still highly competitive with the rest of our industry.

The slightly less bad news: We gather that your complaints have had some resonance with at least some Viacom officials. More after the jump.

This, as we understand it, is the thinking at the upper ranks of Viacom/MTV:

• Viacom has had a series of restructurings over the past few years, and executives and regular Viacom workers have had their benefits/comp packages cut back as well. (Viacom officials prefer the term “changed.”)
• The new company that’s administering your payroll thinks that even the new, reduced benefits you’re getting are decent by industry standards.
• That said, Viacom execs think that HR didn’t do a bang-up job explaining the changes, some of which aren’t as thoughtless as they originally sounded: Freelancers who’d been putting in time to qualify for healthcare, for instance, won’t see that time wiped out under the new system.
• Some of the other changes have been tweaked already; you’ll want to consult with your HR people for details. But they’re not reverting to the old system.

So. You’re not getting what you wanted, or anything close to it. If it’s any consolation, Wall Street would prefer that Viacom cut back even further.

But one last thought: From an outsider’s perspective, the most striking element here is the fact that Viacom has a caste system, where many longtime workers do the same job as their peers, but aren’t treated as peers.*

We gather that Viacom’s primary business — making and distributing cable tv shows — means that there’s always going to be a need for temporary workers who come and go on a project basis. But it ought to figure out a way to own up to reality, and figure out how to treat their fulltime staff – whether they’re freelance or not — equitably.

*Super-insightful (to us, really, who don’t know a thing about NY labour laws) explanation of freelance v. fulltime distinction here, courtesy of…Gawker? Really? Yes.

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