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WGA branches look for peace plan

Third-act resolution looms for scribe orgs

There’s a truce in the bitter civil war between the WGA West and WGA East, and it may even lead to merger.

In a joint communication sent Wednesday to the 12,000 WGA members, new presidents Chris Albers and Patric Verrone have announced they’re moving toward seeking a solution over the guilds’ financial dispute and will meet Oct. 22-23 in San Francisco.

Should an agreement be reached, it could serve as a springboard toward combining the branches.

“Merger will certainly be discussed,” Verrone told Daily Variety. “I’m only one party, but it’s absolutely going to be on the table.”

Albers told Daily Variety that his side’s made it clear that there’s no interest in merger with the West. “But having said that, we are 100% committed to changing the tone of our relationship and working together as partners, and I’m confident that we can reach a deal that respects both sides’ interests,” he added.

Albers and Verrone have been pledging during the past two weeks that resolving the East-West split would be a priority, and they said Thursday in the letter that a “sense of optimism” has begun to emerge between the two guilds in their initial talks.

“Our conversations have not only been friendly and encouraging, they have addressed serious and longstanding issues,” they said. “During our respective campaigns, members on both coasts made it patently clear that they expect the dispute between our guilds to end. We listened; we understood; and we are taking action.”

The duo noted that last week in New York City, both organizing departments worked together for their joint protest in support of reality TV writers and that the WGA West has pledged its support for the ongoing news negotiations with CBS and ABC in the East.

‘Taken out of the courts’

“We are so pleased to announce to you that the East and West have finally agreed to take our longstanding dispute out of the courts temporarily, in favor of negotiating a settlement, member to member and face to face,” they said. “Too much money has been spent on lawyers. It’s time to invest our funds in organizing and working together.”

Albers and Verrone also said the improved relationship will enable both branches to seek jurisdiction over non-union areas.

Announcement comes a week after the WGA West board fired John McLean as exec director and replaced him with director of organizing David Young on an interim basis. McLean and WGA East exec director Mona Mongan had clashed during McLean’s six-year tenure.

East leaders were critical last fall of the failure of the guild’s negotiating committee — dominated by the West — to gain on DVD residuals and reality TV jurisdiction; in addition, the East won a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board that found CBS had violated labor law by negotiating exclusively with the WGA West in 2002 without including the WGA East.

Dues, money dispute

In February, the WGA West demanded 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 and the affiliation agreement that set up the two branches. The West also claimed the Eastern branch owed more than $500,000 per year in dues and owed another $500,000 annually for services the WGAW provides to WGA East members.

For its part, the WGA East accused its Western sibling of union-busting, strongly disputed the financial numbers and noted the constitutional provisions hadn’t been enforced in three decades. The two sides took potshots at each other for several months until filing lawsuits, with the Eastern branch suing the WGA West for refusing to engage in mediation, triggering a countersuit by WGAW to force arbitration.

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

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