Negotiations begin July 16

Members of the Writers Guild of America have strongly backed their leaders in pushing for a bigger cut of new-media revenues when contract talks start July 16.

The WGA announced Monday that members had overwhelmingly approved the 25-item “pattern of demands” for upcoming negotiations. The wishlist received 96% backing from the 3,176 members voting — a 32% higher participation level than in 2004.

The guild, which has about 13,000 members, emphasized it’s aiming to hammer out better contract formulas for Internet reuse and for work created specifically for the Web, cell phones and other digital platforms.

“I am pleased our members have given (the list of demands)such a clear vote of confidence,” said John Bowman, chair of the negotiating committee. “As the media conglomerates’ revenues continue to grow, our objective is to negotiate a deal guaranteeing writers a fair share of an ever-growing pie. Whether it’s on your bigscreen, a flat screen or a computer screen, it’s all content — and writers, like other creative artists, should be fairly compensated for what they create.”

The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers has said already that it plans to push for revamping the residuals system so that writers would be paid only when TV shows become profitable. An AMPTP spokesperson indicated Monday that those concerns remain paramount for the companies.

“The producers look forward to the start of discussions with the writers, where we will all be seeking ways to deal with the revolutionary changes impacting our industry,” the spokesperson said. “We are determined to adapt successfully to the times and avoid the fate of the newspaper and music industries, which ignored change until it was too late. That means that during our negotiations, we will need to find ways to restore the balance between the risks we take and the rewards we share.”

The WGA also pointed out Monday that another key contract demand is expanded jurisdiction into non-union writing arenas such as reality TV, animation and gameshows. Other key issues include increased initial pay in all areas, hikes in minimum pay and residuals at the CW network, an improved homevid residu-als formula, increased caps on company pension and health contributions and inclusion of language addressing product integration in guild-covered work.

The “pattern of demands,” hammered out by the WGA negotiating committee, is meant to serve as guidelines to guild negotiators. Approval by the member-ship was a foregone conclusion.

The vote’s required to trigger the start of contract talks to replace the current three-year pact, which expires on Oct. 31. The contract’s negotiated jointly by reps of the WGA West and the WGA East.

“The two Writers Guilds may be separate unions, but our members couldn’t be more in synch when it comes to defining the issues for the upcoming negotia-tion,” said WGA East president Chris Albers. “I am thrilled that WGAE members joined WGAW members in giving the Pattern of Demands their almost unani-mous support.”

Aside from the thorny question of ditching the current residuals system, negotiations will be tough due to several other factors: a more assertive WGA leader-ship, the strained relationships between the two sides over the past two years; a lack of certainty over which digital platforms will become dominant; and resistance by companies to offer any improvements amid unpredictable revenue flows.

In 2004, the WGA wasn’t able to reach a deal by the contract expiration date after making DVD residuals the centerpiece of its demands. It agreed to wait for the Directors Guild of America to negotiate and then agreed to the current deal, which contained significant hikes in health and pension benefits but no change in the homevid formula.

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