Lukewarm economy could ice strike talk

With an uncertain outlook dominating the upcoming Writers Guild negotiations, the only good news is bad news — economic news, that is.

The Feb. 25 Conference Board’s report on the drop in consumer confidence in February may contain a silver lining for those wondering whether WGA members will be willing to strike. The thinking goes like this: There’s nothing like a lousy economy to cool down union militancy.

“In a soft economy, it is true that people in unions become more reluctant to go marching out of their jobs,” notes labor expert Daniel Mitchell, a UCLA professor of public policy and management.

Timetable for negotiations is expected to be set this week; contract expiration is May 2. Bargaining is certain to be rocky since the WGA has made changing the 20-year-old DVD residual formula its top priority in the face of solid resistance by studios.

The WGA’s leverage has been undercut by SAG and AFTRA, which have tentatively agreed to extend their contract for a year and not go after DVDs in the settlement.

“I think that the SAG-AFTRA extension reflects the uncertainty of taking on an issue like DVD at a time like this,” Mitchell adds.

If nothing else, the stalled economy could become a graceful exit strategy for negotiators looking to extricate themselves from their seemingly intractable bargaining stances.

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