Negotiation talks stuck as strike looms

With a possible writers strike becoming more likely, neither side is budging.

Negotiations stayed relentlessly unproductive Monday in a session at WGA West headquarters — even though both sides had not met for six days after studios and nets took their controversial residuals revamp proposal off the table. Both sides agreed only to reserve today for internal discussions and then meet again for bargaining Wednesday morning.

The mood remained sour Monday as Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, accused the WGA of wasting everyone’s time and effort and blasted the guild for failing to address any proposals by the AMPTP.

“Don’t confuse process with progress,” he said. “The WGA leadership dismissed the withdrawal of the producers’ recoupment proposal as insignificant despite their claim that this was a major impediment to reaching an agreement. The WGA leadership has yet to make any movement on its own or the producers’ proposals.”

“Instead, they continue to pursue numerous financial proposals that would result in astronomical increases in our costs,” Counter added. “Their proposals would also further restrict our ability to promote and market TV series and films and prohibit us from experimenting with programming and business models in New Media.”

Several hours later, the WGA issued a tart response: “We have no intention of discussing the producers’ rollback proposals. Not now, not ever.”

Monday’s talks — described as a “small session” with about 15 reps for each side in the room — consisted solely of discussion of some of the 26 guild proposals. Only one WGA East rep attended.

Lack of progress at the bargaining table is a sign both sides are apparently engaged in brinkmanship and willing to take contract talks down to the wire — the Oct. 31 expiration of the WGA’s current contract.

Counter said the WGA isn’t willing to recognize the profound economic changes that have hit showbiz in recent years. “Instead of working toward solutions that would give the industry the flexibility it needs to meet today’s business challenges, the WGA continues to hold onto demands that would impose unreasonable restrictions and unjustified costs,” he said.

The WGA’s key proposals include doubling the DVD residuals rate; granting the guild jurisdiction over the Internet, animation and reality; boosting rates and residuals for the CW to equal those of the four major nets; and spelling out the terms and conditions of writing for digital platforms, with TV terms pro-rated down to two minutes and a 2.5% residual rate.

For its part, the AMPTP has balked at boosting DVD residuals and asserted that studios and nets need the revenues to make up for escalating losses. It’s also asserted that — amid the massive changes in TV revenue landscape — the nets need to be able to use promotional tools free of charge, such as Webisodes and streaming video to keep attracting viewers.

At a bargaining session last month, WGA negotiators said the AMPTP’s proposals “contained rollbacks of every fundamental protection writers have won in the last 50 years.” It cited the AMPTP’s new media proposals along with proposal for the right to credit amounts due against other pyaments, changes in writers’ rights to exploit TV rights and reaquire screenplays and elimination of the requirement for writing credits in advertising and publicity.

WGA leaders are wary of granting any kind of concession in new media, contending that the guild was willing to make concessions on homevid residuals in its 1985 deal — and has never been able to improve that formula even as costs dropped and revenues soared.

The companies remain especially reluctant to grant any gains in residuals to the WGA, since those would probably have to be included in any subsequent deals with the DGA, SAG and the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical & Stage Employees.

Counter insisted the companies do not want a strike, as some have speculated.

“We hope our efforts are not futile, as there is too much at stake,” he added. “A strike would be devastating to our industry and especially the livelihoods of those who depend on it.”

Monday’s session was only the 11th day of face-to-face negotiations since the formal bargaining began in mid-July. The WGA received 90% backing for a strike authorization from members, in voting that closed last week with most of the ballots cast before the AMPTP withdrew the proposed residuals revamp.

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