Employees of Viacom’s MTV Networks staged a walkout on Monday to protest the treatment of temporary workers who have become more like full-time employees but do not receive the same benefits. Often referred to as ‘permalancers,’ the employees gathered outside of Viacom headquarters in New York City to protest MTV Networks’ plan to cut their health and dental benefits at the start of the new year.
The New York Times reports that MTV Networks defended its position by pointing out that it is also changing benefits packages for full-time employees, and that the plan for freelancers is still competitive within the industry. The paper quoted a Nickelodeon freelancer who said he has been working for the company every day for the past three years but is not being acknowledged as a full-time employee because of the cost of benefits.
Under the new plan announced last Tuesday, freelancers will become eligible for benefits after 160 days of work, rather than the 52 weeks previously mandated. The rub is that all freelancers that had not yet qualified for benefits would have to start the waiting period all over again on the first of January. In addition, the 401(k) plan was taken off the table altogether, a decision MTV Networks quickly reconsidered after complaints were filed.
MTV Networks, which encompasses Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, MTV, VH1 and other cable outlets, employs 5,500 full-time employees around the world, and it’s been said that some departments are 75% staffed by freelancers. Viacom is bracing for more picketing on Thursday as Writers Guild members plan to hit the location as well.