East inches nearer to West in WGA flap

In another strong signal that the Writers Guild war is nearing an end, WGA East prexy Herb Sargent has sent a communique to the West arm of the guild indicating it is ready to negotiate a settlement to the bitter contract dispute.

Following a near unanimous vote by WGAE council members, Sargent faxed a letter to WGA West prez Daniel Petrie Jr. in response to the West leader’s detailed seven-page peace proposal issued on Oct. 22.

“We wish to make clear at the outset that the Writers Guild East remains available, as it has been since Sept. 25, 1997, to engage in the negotiation process with you and return to the bargaining table without any limitation or condition,” Sargent’s letter begins.

“I am sure that you understand that we disagree with your position,” the communique later states, referring to “unrelated” issues such as future talks on merging the two guilds. “However, our council recognizes that it must act in the interest of all writers to achieve a new minimum basic agreement to go into effect on May 2, 1998.”

The East proposed that a referendum be held on whether the Writers Guild returns to a “fast track” contract adjustment committee negotiation or switch to a traditional negotiation.

The stalemate between the WGA East and WGA West was sparked after East members shocked the industry by a vote of 490-99 against the proposed contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and the three major networks. The East’s overwhelming rejection of the contract overturned the West’s 57% approval of the pact by an overall total of only 16 votes (Daily Variety, Sept. 26.).

“I am thrilled that the East has finally agreed to talk to us,” said Petrie in a statement. “The board will have to digest the details of their reply, and I hope and expect our board, in doing that, will ignore the unfortunate tone of their letter and read it in the most generous spirit,” Petrie added, referring to Sargent’s mention of concerns about residual administration, which is managed by the West for both guilds.

Petrie also sent signals of an ultimately positive conclusion to the stalemate when he said, “While I don’t want to speak for our board, I personally would be delighted to see us ascertain the will of our members.”

If its board approves, WGA West officials say a date for “immediate talks” with the East leaders will be set shortly after the West’s Nov. 24 board meeting. If an accord is reached, West officials say new negotiations with film and TV producers could begin as early as January.

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