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Writers resume talks in bid for pact by May

Current agreement expires May 1

Negotiations for a new Writers Guild of America contract began Monday in an atmosphere already jittery from weeks of contentious contract talks between actors and producers.

Representatives of the writers union met at the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers headquarters in Encino to hammer out an agreement based largely on the same contract that was narrowly defeated in a WGA vote last fall.

“Many members who voted against it did not do so because the contract itself was objectionable, but because they felt it did not go far enough,” WGA West president Daniel Petrie Jr. wrote Friday in a letter to members. “Others voted no because of process objections, but were satisfied with the terms of the contract.”

The old agreement expires May 1. Given the short time span, and the potential for a strike if the talks fail, Petrie said it is imperative not to be so intransigent that the negotiations go nowhere.

“We will be bargaining across the table from each other forever,” Petrie wrote. “We will be attempting to make improvements in the position of writers every time we bargain, and the guild must deal with the companies on an ongoing basis, day by day.”

But like any negotiation, he said, “it is not without risk.”

“As far as a strike goes, we need to do two seemingly contradictory things,” he wrote. “We need to be firm in our resolve and, at the same time, lower our anxiety about a strike. Our proposals are limited, practical and have a strong moral basis. They are designed, therefore, to neither court nor threaten a strike.”

The guild’s negotiating committee, chaired by John Furia and Al Ruben, intends to focus primarily on residuals — particularly foreign and basic cable — and the professional status of writers. Other key issues are pensions and health.

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