Scribe sides taking jibes as talks to start

Tensions high as WGA talks begin

The nasty financial dispute between Eastern and Western branches of the Writers Guild of America has remained heated, with the WGA East taking a pot shot at the WGA West on the eve of settlement talks.

“The East has always been ready to pay its fair share of work the West might do on its behalf, or to do the work itself,” said WGA East prexy Warren Leight in a letter to members. “If the West sincerely wants to settle this, we should be able to reach an accord in these two days. If an agreement can’t be reached, it will confirm the fear of many that West leadership is really interested in hobbling our guild and forcing a merger.

“This impasse reflects poorly on all of us, and wastes resources that should be used for organizing and growing our guilds,” added Leight, who replaced the late Herb Sargent last month in the president’s post.

The talks will launch today in Gotham with the assistance of Barry Winograd, a UC Berkeley law professor. Leight, WGA West president Daniel Petrie Jr. and members of the WGA West board and the WGA East council are scheduled to attend.

WGA West assistant exec director Cheryl Rhoden said, “We want to respect the confidentiality of the process and have no further comment.”

Settlement discussions come seven weeks after the Eastern branch sued the WGA West for refusing to engage in mediation, triggering a countersuit by the West to force arbitration.

Battle centers on the WGA West’s demand that screenwriters hold dual membership in both guilds and that half their dues be sent west, based on provisions in the guild’s 1954 constitution. The WGA West is claiming the East branch owes more than $500,000 per year in dues and owes another $500,000 annually for services the WGAW provides to WGA East members.

The WGA East has accused the West of union-busting, strongly disputes the financial numbers and notes that the constitutional provisions haven’t been enforced in three decades.

The WGA West, based in Hollywood, has about 9,000 members and an annual budget of about $20 million. The WGA East, based in New York, has about 4,000 members and a $6 million budget.

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