Negotiators get to work

Putting the hyperbole on hold, the WGA and its members’ employers have gotten down to brass tacks at the bargaining table.

Meeting for the first time in two weeks, both sides sheathed their swords Thursday, issuing no statements other than to announce that they had met and would resume bargaining today at the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers offices in Encino.

The session — only the sixth in which negotiators for both sides have met since mid-July — consisted of discussion of proposals rather than presentation. And the decision to refrain from blasting each other could be a sign that negotiations may be moving forward despite widespread skepticism that a deal will emerge by the Oct. 31 expiration of the Writers Guild of America’s current contract.

Thursday’s lack of rancor contrasted sharply with the heated rhetoric that emerged earlier this week, when WGA leaders announced they had mailed out strike authorization ballots to its 12,000 members.

At that point, guild leaders said the AMPTP wasn’t taking the negotiations seriously and characterized its proposal to revamp residuals as “Draconian rollbacks.” The AMPTP, which is proposing a system in which talent would be paid only after basic costs are recouped, returned fire by accusing the WGA of both failing to take the negotiations seriously and lying to its members.

Strike authorization ballots are due back Oct. 18 in what will be widely viewed as a referendum on the strategies of the WGA’s leaders, who have opted for confrontational stances throughout the bargaining process amid proclamations that specific standards are required for how writers are paid for work on new-media platforms along with jurisdiction over reality, gameshows and animation.

Even though the guild leaders said a strike authorization is routine and won’t necessarily lead to a work stoppage, the move has rattled the town’s nerves because it means the WGA could go out as early as Nov. 1. The WGA West has set up what would be a strike headquarters — with picket signs ready — in what was the members’ lounge; negotiating committee member Carlton Cuse sent out a voicemail to members Wednesday asking for support of the strike authorization vote.

Still, labor observers expect that the WGA won’t strike next month but will instead wait for the Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild to attempt negotiating deals with the AMPTP in hopes of subsequently reaching acceptable gains in its own new contract. Both the DGA and SAG contracts expire June 30; the DGA is much further along in its preparations, and its talks with the AMPTP could launch as early as next month.

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