Production on the latest season of the Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America has been shut down after around 50 crew members went on strike in a bid to have the project covered under an IATSE contract.
The work stoppage on the series — which puts hopeless cooks through a culinary skills course for a chance to win a $25,000 cash prize — began on Wednesday after IATSE made an initial attempt to negotiate pay and benefits for the workers, which didn’t succeed. Crew members in the camera department, grip and electric and set decoration were all said to be involved in the work stoppage, a recognition strike that attempted to pressure management into recognizing a union as the workers’ collective bargaining representative.
The union, which represents tens of thousands of crew members in film and television, tweeted the news of the work stoppage on Friday. “The crew of ‘Worst Cooks in America’ are on strike in Long Island City as Bright Road Productions refuses to serve up fair wages and benefits,” the union stated. “For far too long, crews of unscripted TV have gone without industry-standard wages and benefits! Now, they’re coming together to demand better.” At the time, IATSE director of communications Jonas Loeb added, “With the writers and actors strikes still ongoing, we are witnessing an unprecedented wave of solidarity that’s breaking down old barriers in the industry and proving we’re all in this fight together.”
However, when reached by The Hollywood Reporter on Monday, a spokesperson for studio Objective Media Group said that the labor conflict had led to the shuttering of the New York production. “As a result of the IATSE’s demand for recognition on behalf of the production crew and our inability to reach [an] agreement with the union, Season 28 of Worst Cooks in America has shut down.”
In a statement about the shutdown, IATSE’s Jonas Loeb said that when the union reached out to the production, it ended work and “even attempted to employ a non-union crew to wrap its stages” rather than “negotiating in good faith to provide much needed benefit contributions to its crew during a time of industry wide shutdown.” Added Loeb, “The picket line remains up and as always we stand ready and willing to bargain in good faith to negotiate a fair agreement to cover these workers.”
THR has also reached out to the Food Network for comment.
The strike and subsequent shutdown unfolded as the working conditions of cast and crew in reality television are back in the spotlight due to an ongoing campaign by prominent litigators Bryan Freedman and Mark Geragos to expose alleged mistreatment on NBCUniversal unscripted titles. On Sunday, Freedman called for the company to release their casts and crews from “draconian” non-disclosure agreements in a letter to NBCU’s general counsel: “To ensure silence, NBC has been wielding these contractual terms like a sword,” he claimed.
Earlier this month, THR reported that even amid double Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA strikes that are primarily affecting scripted projects, job openings have been scarce for those in the largely non-union reality field. Said one source for that story, hard times tend to dissuade reality workers from taking the risk on unionization. “We get starved out all the time, and then people just have to work,” this source said. “And then you lose your negotiating power and have to take a job and commit to a schedule and a budget that is unrealistic.”