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!"
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."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. After the jump, the full press release.
Viacom employees and freelancers weren't sure what to expect from their holiday party last night. After the company announced they were making major cuts to employee and freelancer benefits, no one was in a great mood. People talked about protesting at the party, wearing "Permalancers Are People, Too" T-shirts and handing out stickers that someone had made on which WTF replaced the MTV logo. Some people were talking about boycotting the party altogether. But at 5 p.m., after HR veep JoAnne Griffith sent around a memo announcing the cuts would be less severe than previously announced, the rage subsided, the angst transmuted into relief, and Sumner Redstone's serfs succumbed to Weimar-esque debauchery. Daily Intel got a report from inside the belly of the beast.
• Viacom screws over its army of freelancers by rolling back benefit programs drastically. Merry Christmas! [MixedMedia/Portfolio]
• The Washington Post is sending veteran reporter and inveterate partier Keith Richburg to town to take over the paper's New York bureau. He's well known for throwing parties with, get this, as many as 30 people! Will Manhattan will be able to handle it? [NYO]
• No holiday party at Time Inc. or the New York Times. Suckas! [Radar]
Just how nuts is Sumner Redstone? Clearly quite nuts, or at least quite senile. But there's also a chance he hasn't been quite as nuts, for quite as long, as today's Times suggest. Yes, yes: He's probably trying to oust his daughter and heir apparent, Shari, from their companies. And yes, yes: He summarily fired Tom Cruise last year and then ousted Tom Freston. But perhaps he hasn't always been quite this bad. Consider one of the best anecdotes in the Times story:
In 1999, at a news conference for Viacom’s purchase of CBS, Mr. Redstone interrupted Mel Karmazin, CBS’s chief executive, by blurting “I’m in control! Remember — I’m in control!” into a microphone. Despite being widely considered Mr. Redstone’s successor, Mr. Karmazin left the company in 2004.
We were amused, and intrigued, and wanted to find out what happened next in the press conference. So we went to trusty Nexis, where we discovered something interesting.
• Sumner Redstone is feuding with his daughter, leaving the future of Viacom in doubt. [WSJ]
• Forbes is putting its historic Greenwich Village building on the block. [NYP]
• Countdown With Keith Olbermann referred to a Louisiana senator's wife as a ho. Imus again? [FishbowlNY/Mediabistro]
• As rumored, film producer Harvey Weinstein bought Halston. [Reuters via CNNMoney]
• Ralph Lauren will be honored with the CFDA's first-ever "American Fashion Legend Award." [British Vogue]
• Sarah Jessica Parker to launch her own line, Bitten. [The Daily]
• Diana Taylor the mayor's First Girlfriend leaves post as state superintendent of banks for boutique investment firm Wolfensohn & Co. [NYP]
• Harold Ford Jr. loses Senate race in Tennessee, wins position at Merrill Lynch. [CNNMoney]
• Former Citigroup CEO Sandy Weill wants hedge funds to open up their books. [Spiegel via DealBreaker]