On Day 2 of The Great Viacom Walkouts of 2007 in Times Square, the "freelancers" were really getting organized. There were better signs ("This is a Kurt Loder of Crap"), more literature ("Let's Find Out If We Really Are Freelancers?"), and a list was being circulated of everyone's personal email addresses, "so we can organize a website that people can go to for information." A union rep from the Radio-Television Broadcast Engineers Union was circling the crowd, and by 3:30 people were already spouting the party line: "Unless we have some sort of collective bargaining agreement, they can do whatever they want to us," one guy said.
"The dirty little secret is that they used to treat us like staff but called us freelancers," said a fellow in animation, a "freelancer" of eight years. Another guy who's been there for three years actually left the company for ESPN, where he made more money, but then came back for Viacom's benefits.
So are they really freelancers? "No," said an editor of four years. "Why? Because we come in and work at the same place every day, don't work on equipment we own, have taxes taken out of our paychecks, and report to people who are staff."
"No," said Jesus Sanchez, the Radio-Television Broadcast Engineers Local 212 rep, whose union represents workers at CBS, Madison Square Garden, and United Nations technicians. "They're steady employees, work for a specific company, and have taxes taken out of their paycheck."
But will Viacom listen? "They're gonna have to listen," Sanchez said grimly.
At 3:40 p.m., people inside the MTV studios above the demonstration climbed ladders and closed the curtains on all the windows facing the street.
At 3:45 p.m., NY1 showed up and set up a camera. The crowd got even more riled.
"Call your HR rep every single day and let them know you're unhappy!" shouted a gentleman into a bullhorn. Oh, they will.
And they will also walk out again, both tomorrow, we hear, and then again on Thursday, in conjunction with the WGA. More unions will continue to offer their support, and Viacom will continue to look bad. And suddenly this little cost-cutting maneuver, in a year when Viacom has made healthy profits, won't seem like such a good idea after all.
Elsewhere: Viacom's own blogs are even protesting now.