WGA arm mails ballots for 12 top spots

HOLLYWOOD — A lively debate over the new contract has dominated in races for Writers Guild of America East, which mailed ballots and candidate statements last week for a dozen slots.

The three-year deal for a minimum basic agreement received a 92% endorsement, members have groused over the lack of advances in such areas as video/DVD and creative rights along with questioning negotiating strategies. Reviews of the pact were decidedly mixed with little consensus among the candidates in the election, which carries a Sept. 20 voting deadline.

Frelance council candidate Chris Albers, for example, strongly criticized the negotiating team for not being more focused on economics.

“The important goals got watered down as we allowed the wrong issues to dominate the spotlight,” he said. “The possessory credit and other creative rights issues are important but not at the expense of real money issues. Specific titles and access to sets won’t matter a damn bit if most work ends up being produced in mediums where we’re not protected.”

Albert Ruben, another candidate for the freelance member council, expressed similar frustrations: “It’s hard to deny that we’ve moved only a little way toward some of the members’ goals and none of the way toward others. An example of a truly small step is the way we’re going to be compensated for use of our material on the Internet.”

Candidates also criticized the “code of preferred practices,” or guidlelines for treatment of film writers, and expressed frustration over the lack of change on the “A Film By” credit.

“All my life I’ve believed in bettering the economic conditions of writers as well as speaking out and writing against the shameful disrespect in which writers are held by producers, directors and actors,” said Budd Schulberg, a candidate for the freelance member council. “One of these days the self-inflated ‘A Film By Joseph Schmo’ has got to go.”

But Herb Sargent, seeking a sixth two-year term as top elected official of the 4,000-member org, gave a strong endorsement of the deal and noted that it had been approved by a “near unanimous” vote.

Stephen Schiff, who served on the negotiating team with Sargent, offered an upbeat view of the pact by noting that it had helped mend fences with the WGA West. “We came back with a contract that, while far from perfect, avoided a strike, achieved major gains on a number of fronts and not the least, united the Guilds East and West in an unprecedented way,” he wrote.

Presidential challenger Richard Wesley expressed disappointment over animation, video/DVD and creative rights and pledged to press directors for changes during upcoming talks on the issue. “Talks are like beautiful billows of clouds,” said Wesley, who is also VP of the WGAE. “They look unimpressive against the blue sky but soon dissipate with time. Talk means nothing without substantial movement or results.”

Presidential challenger Ron Baskin, a member of the WGAE Council, said the Guild needs to begin organizing efforts in areas of emerging technologies or risk being shut out.

And Warren Leight, who is seeking slots as VP and on the freelance council, said expressed frustration over how the WGA was portrayed during negotiations.

“I’m tormented by how often our side of the story is misrepresented or simply not represented by the vertically integrated media. 10,000 writers should not be out-flacked,” he said. “We need to work in the next two years to publicize our guild and the problems we face. That, rather than threatening to strike a year in advance, is how to lay the groundwork for the next round of negotiations.”

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