Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Writer’s Strike Morality Question

I have no doubt that the talk-show hosts who are paying the salaries of their workers out-of-pocket while they’re laid off are good people. Their hearts are in the right place. Were I in their place, I’d likely do the same thing.

But I ask you: is it morally required that the hosts do this? Is it even advisable?

One the one hand, the host makes the most money on the show and is ostensibly the boss. So I can understand where he would feel an ethical prerogative to pay his staff while they cannot work through no fault of their own.

On the other hand, it’s not the host’s fault that the writers went on strike either. It’s the writers who are forcing the rest of the crew to be unable to work; is the writers’ union contributing anything to these people? I doubt it.

And I would guess that most of those now laid off are union workers themselves. What is their union contributing from the strike funds to these people in a show of solidarity for the writers? Likely nothing, since unions like to collect dues but rarely part with them.

You could argue that the talk-show hosts would be better off letting their employees suffer, and using it as leverage to force the writers back. They could say “Listen, it’s not me refusing to work, it’s the writers. I’d be happy to film the show without a monologue, but the writers say that’s morally wrong. So you get laid off because the writers won’t work and won’t let me do partial work to keep you compensated and the company won’t pay you just to sit around. If the writers agree, we can work without scripts and still turn out a show, but they want you to be out of work.”

That kind of robs the writers of their ethical high horse, doesn’t it?

Of course, it would never get covered like that. The tone of the coverage is that any host who doesn’t pay the salaries of his employees, from his own pocket, is some kind of scrooge or an ogre who is tossing his loyal employees to the curb at Holiday-time. I think that’s kind of unfair, personally, and reflects the entrenched union mentality of the newspaper business (which bleeds over into online coverage of the strike).

I can’t see how the host is any more obligated to support these people than the writers are. And I would be willing to listen to arguments that he has no moral obligation to support them at all.

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