WRITING TIP

Negotiations between the Screen Actors Guild/AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers weren’t resolved until the eleventh hour again this year (see story, page 16), and only after a 25-hour session ending at 9 a.m. March 24. But as gaffers, actors and studio heads all sighed in relief – a failure to reach an agreement would have resulted in production halts by the studios – the Writers Guild privately cited its newfangled negotiating committee as a potential model for smoothing these irksome battles.

In a 1992 special vote, the WGA formed the Contract Adjustment Committee (CAC) in conjunction with the AMPTP, which provided a forum for producers and writers to informally discuss their grievances with each other throughout the three-year contract term.

“This allowed us the time to resolve some very complicated issues,” explained CAC chairman John Furia, who believed that the parties might not have resolved the matter of residual payments on interactive media had they used the traditional negotiating process.

Normally the guild and the AMPTP submit their contract requests to each other about two months before the deadline, and then attempt to hammer out an agreement in that time.

A few CAC proponents said the committee also allowed the guild to get results on non-economic issues, like possessory credits, which usually fall by the wayside when the negotiations get rushed.

The WGA is expected to easily approve its new contract in a vote on Tuesday.

But while WGA negotiators say these lengthened talks enabled them to solve more problems during their recent negotiations, they still pressed against their self-imposed deadline, just as the convention-bound SAG did last week.

Indeed, some disgruntled WGA members claim that CAC is impotent because it doesn’t present the threat of a strike, which makes it easier for the AMPTP to shove their issues under the rug.

One former board member said the problems with the CAC merely reflect, and perhaps repeat, the problems with the guild. “It’s great in concept. But this guild is currently in an elitist state. Its goals are to service the people who are the most successful and the most affluent,” she said. “And the CAC is made up of the exact same people.”

But, political gripes aside, most agree that the new process shows promise for speeding up the process, even if negotiators do use the extra time to tackle secondary issues, and they voted it in again this year. But will SAG follow suit?

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