Last Friday, NBC laid off the non-writing staff members of its late-night entertainment shows--the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien." The move had been expected in light of the continuing strike by writers. Just to be clear - that's an example of employees not currently on strike (regardless of whether they are represented by another union) being laid off due to the striking status of the writers.
Here's where it gets a little weird. The layoffs happen, then the stars of the shows, Conan and Leno, ante up and decide to pay the non-writing staff members for the next week to keep them tied to the show in the hopes the strike will be settled shortly. Why? Because they can (they have the cash) and may be expected to. From the New York Times:
"Jay Leno, the host of “The Tonight Show,” joined his NBC colleague, Conan O’Brien, in assuring the non-writing staff of his show that he would pay their salaries for this week. The staff was laid off last week by NBC because the shows have been out of production since the strike by the Writers Guild of America.
An NBC spokeswoman, Rebecca Marks, confirmed last night that Mr. Leno had contacted his executive producer, Debbie Vickers, and asked her to tell the staff that he intended to pay their salaries this week.
After NBC announced Friday that it was laying off the non-writing staff of both Mr. Leno’s and Mr. O’Brien’s shows, Mr. O’Brien immediately said that he would pay the staff. Mr. Leno drew criticism because he did not make a similar announcement."
It's a little hard to get your head around this one. The writers are on strike, and NBC decides to play hardball and lets the strike drag on. Then, the megastars behind the show (Leno and O'Brien) decide to intervene by paying the wages of those impacted, but not currently on strike.
Does that help or hurt the cause of those currently on strike? Is NBC happy or sad that Leno and O'Brien are doing that? I could argue it either way. My initial instinct was that the more damage there is, the more pressure on the union to come to the table and reach an agreement. But then I think of the potential for lost talent and think it might be a good thing. Weird situation...
Hit me in the comments and tell me what you think. I'm reaching out to the labor blogs for clarity - Mike Moore, Seth Borden, Carter Wood, Connecticut Employment Law Blog, Ohio Employer’s Law Blog and Richard Hankins.
I bet they don't all agree..