Unions share jurisdiction over animation writing

A correction was made to this article on July 2, 2004.

The Writers Guild of America West has hammered out an agreement with studios and nets that broadens employer disclosure requirements for hiring animation writers.

The guild’s agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, reached June 22, mandates that companies must inform writers, when offering employment, whether the work is covered by the WGA or by IATSE’s Animation Guild Local 839.

The two unions share jurisdiction over animation writing; the WGA has asserted its deal contains better terms for residuals and producer contributions to the pension and health plans.

WGA West assistant exec director Cheryl Rhoden said the guild sought to include a notification requirement, since companies sometimes have not disclosed which contract terms are being applied until long after the writer agreed to work on a project.

“This notice will give the writer the opportunity to take the job with full knowledge of the terms of the deal, try to negotiate above the minimum terms or choose not to take the job,” the guild said in its July issue of Member News. “As there are terms in the Local 839 agreement that are different from the WGA agreement, the writers should know what rules would apply to the employment prior to taking the job.”

Rhoden said IATSE president Thomas Short had supported the new agreement during negotiations.

The WGA West and Local 839 staged a high-profile spat last September when the guild blasted DreamWorks for attempting to sign the writers of “Father of the Pride” to a less favorable IATSE contract.

DreamWorks responded by insisting it was simply honoring its IATSE pact, which expires in 2006; IATSE protested what it portrayed as illegal poaching of its contract by the WGA and warned it would file federal unfair labor practice charges.

The WGA and Local 839 eventually settled the dispute, with Local 839 retaining jurisdiction while the writers negotiated an overscale deal for WGA terms and conditions, including WGA pension and health benefits. And the writers on the show, who had pressed DreamWorks on the issue, were honored at the WGA Awards with the Robert Meltzer Award.

The WGA has contended that in the past decade, every network that has aired a primetime animated show has done so under the guild’s minimum basic agreement; that includes “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy,” “God, the Devil and Bob,” “Baby Blues,” “The PJs,” “Mission Hill,” “Futurama,” “King of the Hill,” “The Oblongs,” “Dilbert,” “Game Over” and “Sammy.” However, it has been unable to gain jurisdiction over much of feature animation writing and daytime TV shows.

Currently, the WGA’s animation caucus has about 600 members.

The animation jurisdiction issue has been one of the WGA’s key demands at the stalled negotiations to replace the expired minimum basic agreement with the AMPTP. The newsletter contained no mention of those negotiations, which broke off June 2; no new talks are scheduled.

The guild also announced in Member News that the U.S. Dept. of Labor has scheduled a July 7 meeting at the WGA West headquarters to discuss the upcoming presidential election, which is being supervised by the department as part of the settlement of complaints about how the WGA handled last year’s election.

Current prexy Daniel Petrie Jr. is facing Eric Hughes, who was required to be offered a spot on the ballot without going through the nomination procedure. Hughes was beaten last year by then-incumbent Victoria Riskin, who resigned in January after she was found to have been ineligible.

The election, which will be completed in September, also will feature a race for VP and 18 candidates running for eight board seats. Candidates may also run by petition; deadline for submitting signed petitions is July 23.

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