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Friday, May 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Movie Assistants Decry Working Conditions

MANHATTAN (CN) - Production assistants who worked on several blockbusters were forced to relieve themselves in cups and buckets kept in their cars during filming, they claim in five separate class actions filed just days before the Oscars.

Tuesday's lawsuits, representing at least 10 non-unionized parking production assistants, are the most recent batch of similar complaints filed by attorney James Vagnini of Valli Kane & Vagnini in Garden City, N.Y.

He began suing on behalf of production assistants working on television sets last year. He is now going after movie houses, estimating that, in all, he represents hundreds of PAs in the industry, and expects to represent hundreds more.

Being non-union put his clients at the mercy of the production companies, he said.

"If they rocked the boat too much, it was as simple to not call them or text them and then they would be out a paycheck," Vagnini said Wednesday during a telephone interview after announcing the lawsuits during a media conference outside the storied but now-shuttered Ziegfeld Theater in Manhattan.

The workers were paid up to $160 to work a 12-hour shift to keep pedestrians and motorists off the set at tapings around the city, according to the complaints.

"Defendants' regular failure to pay plaintiffs for all hours worked over forty hours in a workweek violates the Fair Labor Standards Act," one of the lawsuits claims.

"Defendants violate these laws by engaging in a systematic scheme" to doctor workers' paychecks and cheat them out of overtime pay, the lawsuits states.

The workers say they also weren't allowed to enjoy the fare from craft services, wouldn't get a paycheck if they didn't put down at least four hours a day, and were all but chained to their vehicles during their shifts.

The lowly PAs would then have to do their business in their cars or pay local business to use their restrooms, they claim.

"Plaintiffs are only provided restroom privileges when and if the productions are in the midst of filming. Otherwise, plaintiffs are forced to go to the bathroom in their cars or pay local businesses in order to use their restroom facilities," one complaint states. "Due to limitations on their ability to leave their assigned locations, many of the plaintiffs are forced to urinate and defecate into bottles and buckets in their vehicles."

In the first case, plaintiffs Corey Morgan and Christian Pellot sued Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., Annapurna Productions LLC, Atlas Entertainment Inc., Marvel Studios LLC, ARAD Productions Inc. and Matt Tolmach for their work on such films as "American Hustle," the "Spider-Man" franchise, "Eat Pray Love" and "Men in Black 3."

In the second lawsuit, Miguel Morel and Garnett Morgan took on Lions Gate Entertainment, 87 Eleven Productions LLC, Palmstar Media Capital LLC and Thunder Road Productions LLC for their work on "John Wick 2," "They Came Together" and "Draft Day."

Carol Forrest and Ferdie Headlam are the named plaintiffs in the third lawsuit against Ratpac-Dune Entertainment, Dune Entertainment Partners LLC, Zaftig Productions Inc., Energy Entertainment Inc. and Vertigo Entertainment Inc. They worked on such movies like "Focus," "Run All Night," "Jersey Boys," Mr. Popper's Penguins" and "Winter's Tale," among others.

The fourth suit pits William June against NBCUniversal Media LLC, Bluegrass Films, Fuzzy Door Productions Inc. and Media Rights Capital II LP for his work on "Ted 2," "Get Him to the Greek," "Tower Heist" and "The Bourne Legacy," among others.

The final PA lawsuit was filed by Garnett Morgan, William Smaw and Johnathan Tucker against Warner Brothers Pictures, Village Roadshow Productions, Weed Road Pictures, Four Seasons Partnership, GK Films, Malpaso Productions, Ratpac Entertainment, Ratpac-Dune Entertainment, 21 Laps Entertainment and Spring Creek Productions. Those plaintiffs worked on "Annie," "Jersey Boys," "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas," "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," and "42," to name a few.

Several similar lawsuits - focusing mostly on the television industry - were filed last year in the same court. Defendants in those cases include NBC Universal, Warner Bros., CBS Corp.; HBO, Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies Inc., among others.

The PA lawsuits were filed just days before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gives out the film industry's biggest prize on Sunday.

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