Campaigning for the top slot at the Writers Guild of America East has taken a lively tone with candidates Tom Phillips and Michael Winship clashing over strategies, two months prior to the election.
The duo, running to succeed Chris Albers as prexy of the 4,000-member Guild, have notably differed on the union’s handling of the newswriter contracts for ABC and CBS — both which expired in 2005 and cover more than 700 members. Phillips, a veteran newswriter, has pledged that getting those contracts negotiated would be his top priority and noted in his candidate statement that no substantive talks have taken place since last year on either pact.
“Yet the Guild continues to claim its strategy is working,” he added. “It’s not because the Guild has given the companies no incentive to negotiate. Guild leaders act as if they have no bargaining power when in fact these companies depend more than ever on the unique skills of our members.”
Winship said in his candidate statement that WGA leaders aren’t at fault.
“That our newswriters have gone so long without new contracts is shameful, but frankly, blame too often has been miscast at union leadership and its negotiating committees and not at those who would do us harm, who even seek to destroy the very union itself,” he said. “The bottom line is that no new contract is better than a bad one and, in fact, due to our actions, many of the networks’ more onerous proposals have been taken off the table.”
Winship also suggested in his statement that Phillips would be a one-issue candidate by focusing on newswriters to the detriment of other areas such as the current film-TV contract talks and organizing nonunion work. But Phillips indicated he’ll push hard for organizing and in providing more info to members, most of whom he said are “completely out of touch with what the Guild is doing.”
Both Phillips and Winship, a veteran TV writer, are WGA East Council members. Winship pointed to his role as an ally of Albers in settling years of bitter disagreement with the WGA West and pledged to work “hand-in-hand” with colleagues at the recently launched WGA contract negotiations.
Phillips, however, pointed to the “diminished” role of the WGA East in the talks, where the East holds only three of the 17 seats on the negotiating committee. “This is due in large part to a resurgence of member activism in the WGA West, where President Patric Verrone has rejected backroom deals that benefit the Guild and the industry rather than writers,” he added. “As president, I want to do in the East what Verrone is doing in the West and put members first.”
Winship indicated he’ll support a strike, adding, “No one wants a strike, but as the network and studio chiefs are found of saying, you hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”