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WGAE prexy not hopeful

Sargent down on union talks

With the monthlong news blackout lifted, WGA East president Herb Sargent has given a downbeat view of the state of contract negotiations with studios and nets.

“After a month of repeated refusals and proposed rollbacks, it is clear that the companies are attempting to force an unacceptable three-year deal on us,” Sargent said in a letter sent Friday to the 4,000 WGA East members. He called results from the 19 days of talks “very disappointing.”

Negotiations recessed May 5 until next Wednesday, with both sides sniping at each other. Sargent characterized the current talks as a “stalemate” and said the WGA has proposed a one-year deal in order to prevent a disruption to the industry.

Guild — which negotiates a single contract for both the WGA East and WGA West — has proposed a one-year deal similar to the SAG-AFTRA one-year deal earlier this year with “modest” increases in minimums, made-for-pay TV residuals and a 0.5% increase in health plan contributions. The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers has not rejected the proposal but indicated it opposes such a deal, which would leave contract expirations of the DGA, SAG, AFTRA and the WGA all occurring in midsummer 2005.

The AMPTP has also stressed that its companies are facing soaring costs of filmmaking and declining TV revenues in the foreign and syndication markets. Studios have contended that DVD residuals are crucial to recouping the expenses of producing and marketing movies.

AMPTP prexy Nick Counter has also said the companies have not yet made their final offer, even though the WGA contract expired May 2.

Sargent echoed previous complaints by WGA West prexy Daniel Petrie Jr. in several areas, including the AMPTP offer of $10.5 million in increased health plan contributions after the WGA made $42 million in cuts through reduced benefits, raised premiums and tighter eligibility.

He noted the AMPTP has rejected a proposal for hikes in the current DVD residuals rate of a nickel on each $16 DVD sale and for video-on-demand and has turned away the guild’s demand for expanded jurisdiction over reality television, animation and comedy and nonfiction on basic cable.

Sargent also pointed out the WGA sought a raise in pay TV residuals similar to the DGA rate and received a “paltry” offer of $5 per week in the second year.

Sargent detailed several other areas, such as the companies’ proposed rollback for latenight/variety writers when they are hired to write separate primetime specials for their shows. He also said the companies are refusing to pay for, or limit, latenight material reused on network Web sites, arguing such reuse is promotional.

Sargent also said the AMPTP offered a lower increase to daytime writers than they offered to other writers and sought a rollback in rates for newsmag show writers.

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