Scribes back to the table

Wells says WGA strike talks are not over yet

Writers Guild of America West prexy John Wells has been shunning inflammatory rhetoric about last week’s suspension of early contract talks with studios, choosing instead to assert that back-to-back strikes are not inevitable.

“We are still eight weeks away from the expiration of our contract with the companies and 17 weeks away from the expiration of the (Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television & Radio Artists) contract,” Wells said during a 15-minute speech at Sunday night’s WGA Awards.

Wells also took pains to assure the audience of about 1,000 that negotiations will resume shortly.

“We will be back to the bargaining table in the near future, but the early talks came with a press blackout that made it impossible for guild leadership to communicate with the membership,” Wells said. “It seemed appropriate that we take a break that would allow us to tell you how things are going and get your input.”

Meeting tonight

The WGA West will hold a town-hall meeting for members at 7:30 tonight at the Universal Sheraton; the WGA East will hold a similar confab at Gotham headquarters at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Aside from recapping the WGA proposal, Wells also disputed the assertion by the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers that the WGA is seeking a 40% hike in compensation over three years; he said the WGA’s proposal is for a 4% hike in minimums and an 11.3% gain in residuals.

“You can only get to that number (40%) if you take the annual requested increases in residuals, add them up, and then add to that sum the annual minimum increases we’ve requested,” he said. “I don’t know about you, but if I’m looking for a 10% pay increase on a three-year contract, I don’t consider that a 30% pay increase. I consider that a 10% pay increase over three years.”

Counter balance

Wells also had kind words for AMPTP prexy Nick Counter, even though Counter and his group proposed a “double burst” plan that would allow companies to rerun programs within 14 days at a 75% discount on residuals. The WGA, which opposes the plan, believes the proposal would result in a $31 million cut to residuals.

“Nick Counter is a good and honorable man, and I believe him when he says it is not the intent of these proposals to so substantially undermine our existing formulas,” Wells said. “But if experience has taught us anything, it is not the intention but what is allowed that will be exploited.”

Wells concluded by saying: “We have a long way to go, but there’s still time. We’re serious; the companies are serious. No one wants a strike.”

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