The 115 staff members of the Writers Guild of America West have been reassured that their jobs are not in jeopardy, even if exec director Brian Walton’s is.
Responding to widespread concern that other heads would roll, WGAW president Daniel Petrie Jr. distributed a memo to the staff saying that while the defeat of a guild referendum last week “might well mean a change in the executive director’s office,” Walton’s possible ouster “does not mean there will be other changes.”
“Quite the contrary,” Petrie wrote. “The Writers Guild is blessed by an absolutely outstanding staff. We want and need you all. We’d like every single person on the staff to stay with us. More, we’d like you to flourish here, and do great things.”
A staff member who asked not to be named said there is “a tremendous amount of buzz” at WGAW headquarters about the controversy. Walton called a meeting Monday to tell employees that, despite the outcome of the referendum, “there was very strong appreciation among the membership for the work of the staff” and that they need not fear for their jobs.
Meanwhile, the staff member said, Walton’s phone “hasn’t stopped ringing” with expressions of support.
Walton’s fate, thrown into doubt by a close vote in a referendum in which only 21% of the guild’s 7,928 eligible members voted, is the subject of a special board meeting tonight in the guild’s Los Angeles headquarters. It is uncertain whether the board will ask for his resignation or whether it will leave such a decision to a new board set to be elected next month.
What is clear is that Petrie, albeit reluctantly, feels bound by his statement prior to the referendum that if members rejected an extension of Walton’s early termination date, “I would consider it my duty to recom-mend to the board that we begin negotiating a fair settlement of Brian’s contract, and start the search for the next executive director.”
Petrie said he would be “disappointed in the result, but I would respect it.” If Walton “no longer has the confidence of the membership,” Petrie added, “it would be much better for Brian, the board and the guild as a whole to know this now rather than a year from now.”
Some former board members expressed amazement that Petrie and other officers risked Walton’s position by staging what they termed an ill-considered, duplicitous and wholly unnecessary referendum.
“There was no reason to do this,” said former WGAW president Frank Pierson, who won an Oscar for “Dog Day Afternoon.” “Nobody has been calling for Brian Walton’s resignation — I certainly have not. The importance of the referendum has been overestimated. We should just let the dust settle and let the new board do what it’s supposed to do.”