Writers stress commitment to cause

In a defiant move as negotiations loom, WGA leaders are warning the industry that their members are braced for a battle with studios and networks.

“Our guild has not had to battle for issues this important for a long time, and management might hope we’ve lost the collective will to demand what we deserve,” said guild negotiating committee chief John Bowman in a bulletin sent to members Thursday. “They are wrong. Screen and television writers are united behind important issues to a greater degree than at any time since I joined the guild in 1989.”

Saber-rattling has amped up this week with negotiations to start Monday at the headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. Writers are demanding more coin from new-media platforms, plus increased jurisdiction. Companies are insisting that uncertainties over revenues from new-media mandate that the current residuals system needs to be ditched in favor a recoupment-based system.

The WGA’s current three-year deal expires Oct. 31.

“The future of residual income and the jurisdiction of our union are at stake here,” Bowman added. “These issues are worth fighting for.”

The WGA missive is also designed to make the case that there’s no need to do away with residuals. The bulletin contains eight charts under the headline “The Entertainment Industry Is Healthy and Growing,” based on a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, company reports and guild data. One shows global revenues through 2010 growing at 6.6% annually in TV and 5.3% in film.

“The companies can certainly afford to sit down with us at the bargaining table and treat writers like valued strategic partners,” Bowman added. “Instead, the public statements and histrionics of their AMPTP representatives seem to indicate that they won’t deal straight with us without a fight.”

AMPTP prexy Nick Counter said in response Thursday that the two sides should work together to reposition the industry to respond to the changing markets and the changing world.

“We must do whatever we can to avoid what has happened to industries that deny change or fail to adapt fast enough,” Counter said. “If writers are truly committed to working with the companies to overcome these uncertainties and challenges, we invite them to study the market with us as it evolves.”

Bowman also asserted that the guild has already undercut the companies’ past strategy of taking advantage of internal divisions and the WGA’s “fragile” relationships with the DGA and SAG.

“This year, our strategic approach to bargaining has emphasized member mobilization, organizing and finding common ground with our natural allies,” he added. “We believe we are better prepared than ever to negotiate a fair and reasonable agreement that will protect all of our interests in the years ahead.”

Bowman accused the companies of acting in a high-handed manner in response to the guild’s demand that reuse of writers’ work on the Internet trigger residuals.

“Management, however, has refused to accept this interpretation, and has even threatened to do away with residuals altogether in this new medium, or to impose the outdated and unfair homevideo formula,” he added. “Given that residual income can amount to between 20% to 50% of a writer’s income, we clearly can’t allow management to unilaterally dictate this most essential contract term.”

In a separate article, WGA West exec director David Young complained that writers’ income hasn’tkept pace with the growth in industry revenues due to what the guild sees as an unfairly low homevid residual rate, along with growth in non-WGA programming. “We are determined that this situation be corrected,” he added.

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