Workers on the set of "Teen Mom: Family Reunion" Season 2 started striking over Labor Day weekend at Tetherow resort in Bend, with union employees demanding health and pension benefits for the duration of filming. Nonunion production assistants also joined in on the strike, citing unsafe working conditions, dishonesty about pay and taking on expanded duties without compensation or training.
"Teen Mom" aired in 2009 as a spin-off of "16 and Pregnant," and has since spawned eight of its own spinoff shows following new and recurring cast members. "Teen Mom: Family Reunion" brings casts from different Teen Mom projects to a vacation destination. Its first season aired between January and March of 2022, and MTV hasn't announced when the second season will debut.
Production assistants on set said there were red flags from the production from the start. Two unit managers, who recruited many of the PAs, quit three days into filming and advised PAs to do the same.
"We were not in a position to do that, because we all needed the money and we considered it a good opportunity," said Ethan Barela, a striking PA. "The production took full advantage of that."
PAs were asked to work 18-hour shifts outside, in hot and sometimes smoky conditions. Barela said one PA passed out from the heat and another fell asleep at the wheel from exhaustion. They were also tasked with duties outside of what's typically expected from PAs without training, like unloading equipment from various departments and taking over transportation duties after the unit managers quit.
"Typically, when you're stepping into those kinds of roles, you get credited as that and you get a pay increase. We weren't ever given that until it became apparent that we were really unhappy," Barela said. "At that point, they kind of tried to bribe us with a little bit more money. However, there have been a lot of promises that haven't been put into writing, and I have been working on this production since August 19. And I still have not seen a single cent."
The production's also been set back by several COVID scares among the cast and crew. Once the higher-ups caught wind of an imminent strike over Labor Day weekend, they shut down production for two days for what they called a "creative adjustment." The adjustment slashed jobs and attempted to work around the reduced crew size, according to strikers. Two strikers said they were offered more money through the end of the week without having to work on set — so long as they didn't participate in the strike. Some of the striking PAs say that immigrants and people of color were treated particularly poorly during the job.
"At this point, we won't get our jobs back. And we were actually offered more money so we don't do this. But we just want the people in Bend to know that this is like slavery," said Roberta Cumbianchera, a striking PA. "Especially us, Ethan and I, are both people of color. I'm an immigrant, and we got the worst treatment that we could ever get. It can't continue to work like that."
The unionized workers are represented by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, a 150,000-member labor union representing technicians, artisans and crafts persons in the entertainment industry and Local 600, an 8,400-member union representing camera crews. On Sept. 5 IATSE released a statement demanding the crew be given health and pension benefits like the directorial team and urging people not to cross the picket line. An IATSE striker estimated it'd cost about $120 a day to provide health and pension benefits.
IATSE's press release also said the production company, OnSite Productions, was seeking a replacement crew to resume filming. No contact information for OnSite Productions is available online; it was listed as a fully owned subsidiary of Viacom Inc. in 2007 which was renamed Paramount Global in 2022. Paramount didn't return a request for comment by press time.
“At this point, we won't get our jobs back. And we were actually offered more money so we don’t do this. But we just want the people in Bend to know that this is like slavery.”—Roberta Cumbiancheratweet this
Strike organizers on Sept. 8 said they weren't aware of anyone crossing the picket line. They also said only six of the original 26 non-unionized PAs were still working on set. The original film crew consisted of about 90 people. With the reduction in workers, strikers reported seeing things unusual on typical sets, like producers operating cameras and assistant directors ferrying around talent — some of whom are also unhappy with what's happened on set.
"This #TeenMom: Family Reunion has been the worst production I have EVER been apart [sic] of! Their treatment towards the crew & cast is a shameful embarrassment. Their lack of morality/ethics is shocking to say the least. 5 people down & out with covid, due to their negligence alone," tweeted Tyler Baltierra, a cast member who worked on several Teen Mom projects.
Only a handful of the workers on set live in Bend, and others were hired from areas with a more robust pool of entertainment industry workers like Portland, Los Angeles and New York. With their jobs terminated or in limbo, some worry they'll be stuck with hotel bills and travel costs.
"They did tell us that they would provide us transportation back to Portland. But that has been very unclear. There has been very little follow through on any aspects of anything that we've been told," Barela said.
Scripted television is largely unionized, unlike reality television, whose popularity among studios is often attributed to how cheap it is in comparison to scripted TV. Reality television is designed to be cheaper than its scripted counterparts — there are fewer or no writers and no need to film multiple takes.
"This has existed in like, a weird loophole kind of space, because we do represent so much film and television. We're trying to change the conditions that reality television show workers are facing that tend to be worse than episodic or other already-unionized jobs," IATSE communications director Jonas Loeb told the Source.