WGA accuses AMPTP of 'fake negotiations'

Talks between striking writers and the majors have collapsed, five weeks after scribes walked off the job – with no indication of when negotiations will resume.

Friday night’s cratering of negotiations stemmed mostly from disagreements over how to pay writers in the new-media realm. It follows two weeks of bitter and unproductive negotiations and will probably open the door for the Directors Guild of America to launch talks with the AMPTP within the next month.

The strike’s already darkened many TV shows – putting most into re-runs — and provoked a rain of pink slips. It’s now likely to turn pilot season into a shambles and provoke a round of “force majeure” terminations of deal by the majors.

In a statement issued early Friday evening, the AMPTP said that the negotiating strategy by the WGA is designed to keep stalling the negotiations rather than reach a deal.

“Their Quixotic pursuit of radical demands led them to begin this strike, and now has caused this breakdown in negotiations,” the AMPTP asserted. “We hope that the WGA will come back to this table with a rational plan that can lead us to a fair and equitable resolution to a strike that is causing so much distress for so many people in our industry and community.”

The WGA put the blame for the breakown unequivocally on the AMPTP, accusing it of delivering an ultimatum of ditching several key proposals and then walking away from the negotiations when the WGA didn’t comply. In a message to members, WGA negotiating chairman John Bowman said the ultimatum included the demand that the WGA concede most of its Internet proposal as a precondition for continued bargaining.

“The AMPTP insists we let them do to the Internet what they did to home video,” he said. “We received a similar ultimatum through back channels prior to the discussions of November 4th. At that time, we were assured that if we took DVDs off the table, we would get a fair offer on new media issues. That offer never materialized.”

Bowman said the AMPTP walked out while the WGA was prepping a counter-offer.

“We remain ready and willing to negotiate, no matter how intransigent our bargaining partners are, because the stakes are simply too high,” he concluded. “We were prepared to counter their proposal tonight, and when any of them are ready to return to the table, we’re here, ready to make a fair deal.”

But the AMPTP’s put the blame on the WGA leaders, singling out WGA West exec David Young, who’s headed the Western branch for the past two years and brought in a more confrontational style to the scribes union.

“Quite frankly, we’re puzzled and disheartened by an ongoing WGA negotiating strategy that seems designed to delay or derail talks rather than facilitate an end to this strike,” the AMPTP said. “Union negotiators in our industry have successfully concluded 306 major agreements with the AMPTP since its inception in 1982. The WGA organizers sitting across the table from us have never concluded even one industry accord.”

The AMPTP also again touted its New Economic Partnership proposal as a way to find common ground, although the WGA rejected it out of hand a week ago. And it asserted that the proposal would increase the average working writer’s salary to more than $230,000 a year – though that figure excludes WGA members who are unemployed, making the actual average figure about $62,000 from film and TV for the 10,500 members.

The AMPTP said that it’s proved during the five months that it want writers to participate in producers‘ revenues, including in theatrical and television streaming, as well as other areas of new media.

“However, under no circumstances will we knowingly participate in the destruction of this business,” it warned. “While the WGA’s organizers can clearly stage rallies, concerts and mock exorcisms, we have serious concerns about whether they’re capable of reaching reasonable compromises that are in the best interests of our entire industry. It is now absolutely clear that the WGA’s organizers are determined to advance their own political ideologies and personal agendas at the expense of working writers and every other working person who depends on our industry for theirlivelihoods.”

The move came at the end of a day of dueling news releases, which saw both sides blame each other for the lack of progress at the negotiating table.

Bowman told Daily Variety he wasn’t surprised at the AMPTP’s departure from negotiations. “They had drumrolled this all week,” he added. “We wound up being engaged in fake negotiations. I suspect they’re trying to do this so that writers will suffer during the holiday season.”

Bowman said the resumption of negotiations would probably take place through back-channel efforts.

First reaction to the AMPTP’s announcement of the breakdown of talks with the WGA comes from Tom Short, president of the Intl. Alliance of the Theatrical Stage Employes, which reps over 100,000 below-the-line employees. Short’s had a long, bitter history with the WGA, blaming the guild leaders for their tactics of refusing early negotiations and attempting to organize IATSE turf in animation and reality.

“I don’t believe the WGA ever intended to bargain in good faith,” said Short. “And they are destroying a lot of lives in the process. As a result of their irresponsible and irrational behavior, the number of IA members who have lost work is fast approaching 40,000 people representing members all over the US and Canada. Unless and until the WGA leadership starts behaving responsibly, which is unlikely, not only wages, health insurance coverage and pension benefits will be lost. Homes and businesses will be lost, too.”

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