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Freelancers

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Have You Heard? There's a New Economic Freak-out Happening!

FINANCE • William A. Ackman of Pershing Hedge Funds got everyone freaking out about bond insurers by issuing a report yesterday afternoon predicting that MBIA and the Ambac Financial Group might just lose $24 billion on mortgage investments. “Here comes Ackman at the 11th hour upsetting the apple cart,” Douglas M. Peta, chief market strategist at J.& W. Seligman & Company, told the Times. “I don’t think anybody has really thought it all through, but we all understand the implications of real trouble in the bond insurers could be far reaching.” [NYT] Related! MBIA announced a $3.5 billion write-down this morning. [CNN] • Wharton is still the number-one place in the universe to pick up an MBA. [FT] • Following in the steps of other CEOs with giant mortgage-related losses, Merrill won't give its top brass any bonuses. But they will give them stock options "to promote the continuity of the management team as they continue to navigate through challenging market conditions in 2008." That's one way to hang on to staff. [Reuters]

Alone in the Crowd

It Happened
New Yorkers watching Will Smith walk through the ruins of an uninhabited Manhattan onscreen in I Am Legend knew just how he felt; it was a week for contemplating loneliness. Rudy Giuliani, indulging in fantasy population control of his own, envisaged a city in which he’d deported 400,000 illegal aliens. (“I would have had fewer problems,” he’s quoted as saying in a new book.)

Viacom Freelancers Continue to Protest Despite Love From Above

Viacom
Exactly seven minutes before their scheduled 3 p.m. protest today, Viacom freelancers received a memo from HR's JoAnne Griffith saying that the company had decided to let them keep their old health-care plans (although the controversial Aetna plan "has certain advantages that may make it the preferred option for many of our freelance and temporary employees," the memo said — as if!). When the e-mail arrived, "there was a palpable sense of relief," said one freelancer, "however, we are still missing several key items that we had before," including the company's contributions to their 401(k) and paid holidays. So it was back out to Times Square and chanting, and someone even started a blog for True Life stories of Viacom freelancers, such such as this one, titled "Engaged and Underpaid":
"My girlfriend and I recently got engaged and set a date for the fall '08 for our wedding, but [getting on her health-care plan] will cost us a huge chunk of what we had been saving for our wedding. So much for getting married in ’08. THANKS VIACOM!"
Another protest is planned for tomorrow, where the Viacom freelancers will be joined by members of the Writers Guild East, who are on full-time, as opposed to teatime, strike. In Major Reversal, Viacom Returns Healthcare to Freelancers [Gawker]

Viacom Freelancers Protest in Times Square: ‘I Want Teeth’

Viacome
The section of 42nd Street directly below the glass-walled studio where MTV's Total Request Live is filmed is usually occupied by screaming fans of pop-music acts and MTV personalities, but at 3 p.m. today it was filled with nearly 300 MTV employees, who gathered outside the Viacom building to protest the drastic cuts the company is making to the benefit plans of its full-time freelancers. "The TRL people were all looking down at us," said one freelancer. "We booed them." They may have been angry, but the protesters weren't uncreative: They held aloft signs bearing twisted Viacom logos — Nickelodeon became "Sickolodeon" and MTV "WTF." They were even musical, chanting "I want my benefits" to the tune of the Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing," and "You've Got to Fight for Your Right to Health Care!" to the Beastie Boys' "You've Gotta Fight for Your Right (to Party)." "It was pretty catchy," said one freelancer, who added that some of the chants were more direct. "There was one where everyone just shouted, 'I want teeth,'" she said. But the protests weren't, after all, just for fun. "We deserve to be able to take care of our bodies when we get sick," said the freelancer about the new health plan, which she called "a piece of shit." "We're worth more than that."

At 3 P.M. Today, What Will Sumner Do?

Sumner
According to a press release sent to us from embittered Viacom freelancers, 3 p.m. is the hour that they will storm out of the offices today to protest large changes in the company's benefit program. Though Sumner's army of evil attempted to make some concessions last week, it seems like it's still on. From the release:
The holiday season has arrived and you work for one of the largest media corporations in the world. You receive your invitation to the company’s annual holiday gala event, and along with it, you are given the alarming news that in a few weeks, large portions of your employee benefits – including health insurance and retirement benefits – will be slashed or cut.

It sounds like a tale only Scrooge could spin, but this was the case for thousands who work each day for Viacom but are classified as ‘freelancers’, some of whom have been working for the company as long as 9 years.
Wow, Scrooge? Someone get these creative people a raise! Any readers planning on walking out, too? Send us what's going on in the interior; we're dying to know. E-mail us at intel@nymag.com. After the jump, the full press release.