WGA strike enters fourth day

No new talks have been scheduled

Both sides in the writers strike proclaim they’re eager to get back to the negotiating table — until you read the fine print.

In fact, it’s more likely that the next set of contract talks will involve the Directors Guild of America rather than the WGA.

With the writers strike now in its fifth day, a return to the table may be far harder than it sounds — even though both sides were making progress toward a deal late Sunday when talks collapsed as the guild went on strike.

Writers Guild of America West president Patric Verrone insisted Thursday that he wants to get back to the bargaining table as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the DGA’s going to wait until it’s certain that the WGA negotiations have hit an impasse and can’t be revived before it moves forward with talks.

“We are ready to get back any time that the companies are ready,” Verrone said while on the picket line outside the Paramount lot, where he was appearing with the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

But the WGA’s caveat is substantial — that the companies need to make the first move by responding to its last proposal from Sunday, when the talks fell apart amid a welter of blame and recriminations.

For their part, studios and nets want to resume talks but there’s also a major condition — the WGA must show good faith by putting the strike on hold for a few days. In other words, the guild would call for a “cooling off” period and tell its members to get back to work temporarily so that a deal could be hammered out.

As of late Thursday, no new talks had been scheduled. And Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, has indicated that he expects to be negotiating next with the DGA rather than the WGA.

Contracts for the Screen Actors Guild and the DGA both expire June 30, but the DGA negotiations are widely expected to launch by the end of the month. The DGA had no comment Thursday.

Pressure to get the AMPTP and the WGA back to the table has emerged from guild showrunners, who asserted late Wednesday they’ll start performing their producer duties again once talks start. But the abrupt ending to Sunday’s talks and the strident statements since from both sides are deepening pessimism that the WGA and the AMPTP will be meeting any time soon.

Verrone appeared upbeat Thursday and said he was bearing up well amid a blizzard of demands on his time.

In his most recent email to members, Verrone acknowledged that the timing of resuming the talks remains a major concern and pointed out that it had been nearly four months between the time the WGA put its proposals on the table in July and the first time the AMPTP came up with a counterproposal on new-media issues.

“The companies sought to get us to bargain against ourselves in that time,” Verrone added. “Thanks to the resolve and patience of our negotiation committee, we did not. The last move made on Sunday was our presentation of a comprehensive package. It is up to the companies to respond to that package. When they indicate that they are ready to do so, we will return to the bargaining table as soon as possible.”

Verrone’s statement also indicates the WGA won’t try to put its proposal to double DVD residuals back on the table — although he had hinted earlier in the week that the guild might take that step.

Jackson told a crush of reporters outside Paramount on Thursday that he’d assist in any way possible toward a resolution of the strike, including pressuring Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to get involved. And he noted that the guild’s effort mirrors pushes by the middle class to seek a bigger share of corporate profits.

“While there’s so much profit, we must see the value of the democratization of wealth,” Jackson added.

Verrone also told members that at least 3,000 people have picketed during each day of the strike. The WGA’s scheduled a 10 a.m. rally/picket today outside Fox Studios.

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