Hollywood unions have stepped into the fray over "Kid Nation," saying the CBS series is an example of networks exploiting reality shows to keep costs down by not paying writers and actors.

The series, in which youngsters run their own town, became the subject of a New Mexico attorney general's investigation after one of the children's parents complained that her daughter was hurt during production.

"Kid Nation" is slated to premiere Sept. 19, and was filmed over 40 days during April and May in a movie-set town in the high desert just south of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Union representatives are seizing on the controversy over the show to air their grievances with reality television.

"To me, this is the sweatshop of the entertainment industry," Jeff Hermanson, assistant executive director of Writers Guild of America, West, told the Los Angeles Times.

The writers' and actors' complaints about "Kid Nation" are the latest in a line of union objections to reality shows' contracting practices.

Union representatives argue that the programs have writers who should be compensated according to union guidelines and that some contestants are performers who could be covered under collective bargaining agreements.

"What's happened with 'Kid Nation' is typical and universal, but then it's that much worse because it's about children," said Hermanson, whose union is in the midst of negotiating a new contract with TV networks and movie studios.

Screen Actors Guild representatives became involved in the dustup over the show after hearing complaints from parents, members and former young performers who were "appalled at the way these kids were treated," deputy national executive director Pamm Fair said.

The guild looked at the contract between parents and producers, she said, "and it's been a long time since we've seen such egregious provisions for any performer, let alone children."

The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which covers the host and announcer of "Kid Nation," was beginning its own probe into reports of abuse of children on the set, officials with the group said.

The union actions came a week after a complaint charging "abuse and neglect" was made public by the mother of a 12-year-old girl whose face was burned while cooking on the show.

New Mexico Atty. Gen. Gary King said he will investigate whether producers lawfully kept state inspectors, who wanted to review work permits for the children, from the site.

CBS Corp. board member Linda Griego said directors are making inquiries to ensure laws were followed.

Network lawyers have maintained that no work permits were needed because the children were "participating," and not working, during the filming of the program.