It was the most the most fashionable group involved in a work stoppage ever this afternoon when about two hundred Viacom freelancers and permalancers (most in their twenties), some press and Times Square onlookers gathered in front of 1515 Broadway. For a while they chanted "What the fuck! What the fuck!" until a fellow clambered on top of a garbage can. "You guys!" he called. "Listen! Cursing and saying stuff that doesn't really matter won't change their minds! We're out here for dental, right? And we want healthcare, right?"
"RIGHT!" the crowd roared back. Chants were amended thusly.
Let's meet the walker-outers! "The reason I wanted to work for this company was that they had great benefits," said a twentysomething woman who has been there since June.
"I hear that there are certain levels of management that support what we're doing," says Steve, a freelance production assistant of two years. "Why? Because many of them started as freelancers."
"I have a feeling people who have been here seven, eight, or nine years are going to leave," said a woman in production at VH1 who has freelanced for eight and a half.
"It's a slap in the face," said two young designers who have been with Viacom for two years. "I'd like to think [walking out] will make a difference, but I'm not sure it will. I'd also like to add that the current edit I'm working on is a big list of accomplishments from this year that goes out to all the employees: 'Look how much money we made.' That's why it's a slap in the face."
"I've been off and on for seven years, since after college. Sometimes I'm staff and sometimes I'm a freelance," said a woman in a fun pink hat. "[The benefits] was the draw for all of us. We're paid less, but at least we're taken care of. What if I get hit by a fuckin' car?"
Said a design project manager who was affected by the cuts even though he is technically management and exempt: "When I had the initial meeting, it came as a shock, so I didn't come in on Monday and updated my resume. Since then they've negotiated with me personally. The line from management was no negotiations with anyone, but in reality that's a bit different." He added that he got a good response from the resumes he sent out; some companies even offered him staff status "off the bat."
"My main advice to the kids on my team is to not take whatever a corporation does on a personal, emotional level. But I would not advise them to stay here if they could do better elsewhere." (Many of the other workers there said that they, too, were looking for other work.) Did he have any final thoughts on the matter? "I think Viacom is a soulless corporation who doesn't give a shit."