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August 20, 2005
Air America: Stiffing The Talent (And The Union)

The third installment in the investigative blog series by Michelle Malkin and Brian Maloney covers the litigation arising from former host and programmer Lizz Winstead, the first of the 'talent' to join Air America well before its launch. Winstead also has the distinction of being the first host they fired after the Piquant fraudulent conveyance buyout. At the time it raised a few eyebrows; after all, the ratings for "Unfiltered" couldn't have been that much worse than the rest of the AAR lineup.

The counterclaims filed by Winstead and Piquant Media clear up quite a bit of the mytery, as Michelle and Brian point out:

On May 20, 2005, comedian Lizz Winstead filed suit in New York, detailing a laundry list of allegations against Air America Radio parent Piquant LLC.

Accusing the company of failing to pay wages, promotional fees, accrued holiday compensation and severance, Winstead is seeking $290,716, plus interest. ...

It seems clear Winstead was utilized in dual programming and on-air roles at Air America. Published reports from early 2004 listed her in both, here and here. Mediaweek noted she'd been programmer and host, in this blurb regarding her exit.

It's not known what was in her original employment agreement, or for which programming decisions Winstead may have been responsible (other than her own "Unfiltered"). One thing isn't in dispute: on May 24, 2004, she agreed to sign a release supplied by the company.

What exactly it was intended to cover is exceptionally confusing. Winstead believed it to be a release of monetary claims against Progress Media, so Piquant could take it over, without facing demands for unpaid compensation.

But wait a second-- Air America's party line is that Piquant merely purchased the assets of Progress Media, not its liabilities. Why the worries, then, about past claims being brought against the new company?

It gets much better than that. After the transfer to Piquant, AAR simply quit paying her on-air salary and stopped reporting her wages to AFTRA, the union that represents on-air talent. AAR only honored the management compensation (for program management) portion of the agreement, despite Winstead's continuing on-air performance. When Winstead woke up and sniffed the java, AAR terminated her and reassigned her two on-air hosts to other duties.

To no one's surprise, Winstead sued, claiming back wages. Incredibly, AAR responded by saying that Winstead never served in a management capacity, even though they had stopped paying her on-air talent fees. Michelle and Brian have the court filings that either enraged or amused Winstead to no end. Read through the entire installment.

But here's one macro political point that Michelle and Brian missed, understandably so given their highly detailed investigation into Air America's scandalous conduct. Their sponsors, especially in the Twin Cities market, tend to heavily represent labor unions. Unions flock to the populist/liberal messengers in order to bolster their organizing efforts and push their members to listen to AAR to underscore their own political messages. With Winstead's lawsuit showing that AAR shafted a major union on dues by refusing to compensate on-air talent, how long will those unions stick by AAR? And if AAR's response to Winstead's lawsuit claims she never worked in management, how exactly do they explain to AFTRA their failure to report her compensation?

It looks to me like Sheldon and Anita Drobny and the rest of the far-left management at Piquant love labor unions as long as they keep their questionable businesses afloat. When it comes to partnering with labor, as AAR hosts demand from places like Wal-Mart and other corporate entities, the Drobnys and other Piquant owners have granted themselves a huge, hypocritical exception.

Pull up a chair and pass the popcorn, folks. This is really getting good now.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 20, 2005 8:31 AM

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» Air Scamerica - A Show to watch! from pekin prattles
Yep! The message is finally getting through. Air America, the dastardly liberal scheme to present the non-message of the screaming left (Al Franken's rants) in DEEP Doo Doo! [Read More]

Tracked on August 20, 2005 10:51 AM

» Equal Opportunity Swindlers from Hard Starboard
If there's one thing that we've learned from the joint Brian Maloney/Michelle Malkin investigative series on Air Scamerica, it is that they aren't choosey about whom they bilk - they'll steal from anybody: On May 20, 2005, comedian Lizz Winstead f... [Read More]

Tracked on August 20, 2005 8:29 PM

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