Crew members on Rachael Ray say they're being cut despite assurances that they would be paid through the end of the season after the coronavirus pandemic brought most production to a halt.
Ray has been filming her show from her home with her husband since March to limit her exposure to COVID-19, eliminating the need for many of the crew. But after initially being told production was returning to the studio in New York City, executives are now saying around 20 people won’t be paid for the rest of the season they were booked for, setting the stage for them to lose their income and health insurance during a pandemic.
“My savings is dwindling. I’m not going to be able to pay my bills, and then in the next six months I won’t have worked enough union hours to cover my health insurance,” one crew member said.
BuzzFeed News spoke with nine crew members who preferred to remain anonymous fearing retribution from the show and the entertainment industry. They said they understand these are unprecedented times, but they don’t think it’s fair that studios continue to profit while they’re left without the opportunity to work and earn a salary.
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Executives have made it clear that Ray is uncomfortable going back to the studio because of COVID-19 dangers, and crew members say they “completely understand her concerns” and don’t hold that against her. But they also said it’s a tough pill to swallow when Ray has donated $4 million to coronavirus relief while her own employees are worried about how they’re going to pay their bills and keep their health insurance during a global pandemic.
Some crew members also pointed out that they’ve worked on the show for more than a decade and have always felt supported by executives, producers, and Ray, which is what makes the staff cuts so shocking and hurtful.
“It’s hard when you work for a show for 14 years and they say, ‘We’re going to take care of you and we’re all family. We’re going to pay you guys for September and October,’ so you expect the show is going to come back to the studio or they’re going to keep paying you because of our contracts,” one crew member said. “But now we’re left with nothing.”
According to Variety, which first reported on the dispute, negotiations between the show’s producers and the union that represents technical crew members, including camera operators and audio engineers, have not led to an agreement.
In July, production was initially told they were going back to the New York City studio to film the cooking talk show, with rehearsals starting on Aug. 24. They were even sent a shooting schedule for up to March 17. Then in August, management told crew members that Ray was going to continue filming alone in her own home and no one would be returning to the studio. Despite the change in plans, crew members said they were told they’d be paid through October and executives would reevaluate the situation as the months went on.
But on Oct. 15, crew members received calls from management saying they wouldn’t be returning to the studio for the foreseeable future and would no longer get paid for the remainder of the season.
“We were told back in August, ‘We’re a family and we’re going to take care of you.’ It was nice, and then for this to happen, people are hurt,” one crew member said. “It’s a damn shame.”
Compounding fears of lost income is the potential result of the presidential election and what it could mean for the Affordable Care Act.
“It’s terrifying,” one crew member said. “And then it also depends what happens with the vote for our president. If we actually lose the Affordable Care Act, which is a real possibility, those of us who have had COVID, including myself, may not be able to get health insurance, period, and that’s a big, big problem.”
While crew members aren’t technically working on the Rachael Ray show, the show itself is still airing as planned and they’re upset that CBS Television, the show’s distributor, won’t honor their contracts for the remainder of the season. Some crew members also said producers won’t return phone calls or emails.
“There’s so much job insecurity in this industry to begin with, and for this kind of nonsense to go on in such dangerous, unprecedented times makes it impossible to be able to find work,” one crew member said. “The bottom dollar and bottom line supersedes everything, especially now with the situation we’re in, we’re seeing that all the more clearly.”
Some crew members filed a complaint against CBS Television through their union, IATSE, but they said there hasn’t been progress toward an agreement, and even if both sides reach a compromise, it won’t impact all laid-off employees because only some crew members are protected.
“Our opportunity to work is being taken away from us and we have contracts that are supposed to protect us, and they’re trying to find loopholes to get out of these contracts,” one crew member said.
According to an email obtained by BuzzFeed News, similar grievances regarding remote production have also been filed involving The Real, American Idol, Entertainment Tonight, and Dr. Phil.
A spokesperson for CBS Television, which distributes Entertainment Tonight and Dr. Phil, said they were unaware of any union grievances for those shows. Representatives for The Real, American Idol, and the union, IATSE, did not immediately comment.
In a statement, a spokesperson for CBS Television Distribution said when COVID-19 forced studio production to shut down in March, they started shooting the show at Ray’s home “out of necessity.”
“As we moved into fall, with COVID cases increasing, we made the difficult decision to continue to shoot the show from Rachael’s home for the foreseeable future,” the spokesperson added. “Unfortunately, this new format has affected some valued studio crew, including IATSE members. CBS Television Distribution has continued to pay those affected through September and October, and we have reached out to IATSE to discuss mitigation efforts going forward.”
Production crews across television have been in limbo since March because of COVID-19. Some productions have returned to set, while others have continued filming remotely, leaving crew members out of work. But some talk show hosts have paid furloughed staff out of their own pocket, including Trevor Noah for The Daily Show and James Corden on The Late Late Show. Last April, Variety also reported that Jimmy Kimmel personally paid the stagehands from his show when shutdowns first happened.
But crew members on Rachael Ray said it shouldn’t be up to talk show hosts to pay their crew. Instead, they want studios to honor their contracts.
“They’re a giant corporation and this is a multibillion-dollar entertainment business,” one crew member said. “CBS is getting their shows, they’re getting their advertising dollars, the production companies are making money, but they’re not paying us.”