WGA inks early pact

In what could equally draw cheers and jeers from members, the Writers Guild of America announced Tuesday that it had reached a tentative agreement for a new three-year contract with film and television producers. The current contract is scheduled to expire May 2, 1998, leaving nine months to spare.

While WGA officials did not release specifics of the proposed contract, sources say the new minimum basic rate will include a 3% cost-of-living increase. The tentative agreement reached with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers as well as networks ABC, CBS and NBC, encompasses both the Writers Guild of America West and East.

The agreement, which goes to members for a vote on Sept. 18, includes pension and health benefits for scribes who sell spec scripts. Previously, writers only received these benefits upon being hired to rewrite a spec screenplay.

“That is an inequity that we have always hated,” said Daniel Petrie Jr., WGA board member and WGAW prexy candidate in this September’s guild elections. “But now, that’s one of the big wins of this contract.”

However, WGA board member Lynn Roth, who is running against Petrie in the September elections, believes there were fundamental mistakes in the negotiation process.

“I think this contract is controversial,” said Roth, who is opposed the agreement. “I have not been given a successful answer on why we negotiated so early.”

However, not all members believe early negotiation means a weakened position.

“What they are trying to avoid are last-minute confrontations that stop productions,” said George Kirgo, former prexy of WGA. “My general feeling is that it’s great that a strike can be forestalled.”

Roth also was disappointed that the issue of foreign-market residuals was not in the structure of the contract. “One of the most important issues of the membership is the foreign markets,” Roth said. “This contract defers it.”

Sources say producers have agreed to address the residual issue as well as creative concerns such as vanity credits (credits that read “A film by …”) in a series of separate committee meetings. The WGA hopes the first meeting, skedded for October, will also include the Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild.

While admitting that the agreement will be controversial, Petrie believes the accord brought strong gains.

“People tend to be dissatisfied even with the best contract,” he said. “The Writers Guild has had 10 years of increasingly good years with no rollbacks and this continues that.”

But Roth, who believes the whole process surrounding the negotiation, has been rushed, was also concerned with the short, one-month window that members have to study and vote on the new contract.

“I am not recommending it,” Roth said. “But ultimately, it’s for the membership to decide.”

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