Union head calls guild leaders 'strike happy'

Thomas Short, president of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, is blasting the Writers Guild of America and accusing its leaders of being determined to go on strike.

“It’s time to put egos aside and recognize how crucial it is to get everyone back to work, before there is irreversible damage from which this industry can never recover,” Short said in a letter to WGA West president Patric Verrone. (Click here to read Short’s letter to Verrone on Variety‘s strike blog.)

IATSE, which reps most below-the-line employees, released the letter Wednesday, the 10th day of the WGA strike. No new talks are scheduled even though the guild and the companies have not met since negotiations collapsed Nov. 4.

Verrone was in D.C. on Wednesday along with SAG topper Alan Rosenberg meeting with members of Congress and other policymakers. In a statement issued in response to Short’s letter, Verrone said: “Our fight should be your fight,” and noted that “for every four cents writers receive in theaterical residuals, directors receive four cents, actors receive 12 cents and the members of your union receive 20 cents in contributions to their health fund.” (Click here to see Verrone’s letter.)

WGA has continued to picket more than a dozen locations in Los Angeles and staged a protest outside the World of Disney store on Fifth Avenue in New York on Wednesday, drawing more than 400 supporters.

A large, inflatable, cigar-chomping pig stood at Fifth and 55th Street outside the World of Disney store. Barricades ran the length of the block between 55th and 56th when it became clear that the picketers would not be contained to the sidewalk.

“I’ve had a lot of pedestrians telling me, ‘Hey, good luck with this,’” said “Late Show With David Letterman” scribe Steve Young. “I don’t know if the approval of tourists is going to bring Les Moonves to his knees, but it makes us feel good.”

More than 50 TV series have been shut down by the strike, Short wrote in his letter to the WGA West.

“More will come,” he added. “Thousands are losing their jobs every day. The IATSE alone has over 50,000 members working in motion picture, television and broadcasting and tens of thousands more are losing jobs in related fields.”

The IATSE topper noted that he took issue late last year with Verrone over the WGA’s defense of its strategy in delaying contract talks with studios and nets until the summer.

“When I phoned you on Nov. 28, 2006, to ask you to reconsider the timing of negotiations, you refused,” Short said. “It now seems that you were intending that there be a strike no matter what you were offered, or what conditions the industry faced when your contract expired at the end of October.”

Short also took aim at recent comments by WGA West exec director David Young, in which the exec said he would not apologize for the strike’s economic impact.

“This is hardly the point of view of a responsible labor leader, someone dedicated to the preservation of an industry that has supported the economies of several major cities for decades,” he added.

Verrone’s response emphasized the WGA’s view that it was the AMPTP that broke off talks on Nov. 4. “Please help us by doing everything you can to get the AMPTP to come back to the table and settle this strike,” the statement said.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is demanding that the WGA put the strike on hold for a few days as a condition of resuming negotiations. But WGA leaders are insisting they can’t return to the table until the AMPTP responds more adequately to the guild’s last proposal.

Short’s salvo is the latest outburst in a long line of hostilities between the unions, which have differed over which union should have jurisdiction over writers on reality shows and animation. For its part, WGA West exec Young accused Short last year of being a shill for the companies and using strikebreaking tactics to prevent the WGA from organizing staffers on the CW reality show “America’s Next Top Model.”

Short and the WGA tangled last month over the guild’s plan to bar WGA members from penning animated features under its strike rules. Short referred to the writers union as “the house of hate commonly known as the Writers Guild of America West” and pledged he’d take the WGA to court since feature animation writing is IATSE’s turf through its Animation Guild, which operates as Local 839.

When the WGA struck three weeks later, it had quietly altered the strike rules so that WGA members would allowed to write animated features under IATSE contracts.

At the Disney protest Wednesday, leaflets noted that the WGA is seeking 2.5% of revenues from work for the Internet or work that’s delivered digitally.

“But the studios are refusing to discuss a fair deal,” the missive said. “So we’ve been forced to take our case to you.”

One of the chants – “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Disney needs to share the dough.”

The war of words continued with Young sending a message to members late Tuesday night, in which he accused the AMPTP of making misleading statements such as the assertion that writers are already paid residuals for digital downloads.

“What they don’t say is that we are paid one third of one cent per dollar received by studios for digital downloads,” Young said. “One third of a cent. This is a paltry amount for work that we created. We currently earn two cents per dollar on ad-supported TV programming.”

Young noted that the AMPTP said writers received $260 million in residuals in 2006. “What they don’t say is that this was our contractual share of over $20 billion the studios made from work that we created,” he added. “The companies’ rollbacks would more than cut our residuals in half.”

Both sides remain at odds over how negotiations ended on Nov. 4 with each accusing the other of causing the talks to collapse. Young noted in the message that the AMPTP has asserted when negotiations collapsed an offer was on the table to pay writers for Internet streaming.

“This is misleading,” he added. “What they don’t say is that it was merely a partial offer, and there was nothing else but rollbacks on the table when they left. They have yet to deliver an economic proposal after three and a half months of our requesting one. We have presented them with ours, but they still refuse to negotiate.”

The AMPTP has insisted that it had an economic package on the table when talks ended.

Dade Hayes contributed to this report.

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