WGA leaders endorse SAG strategy

Verrone, Winship issue Labor Day message

Leaders of the Writers Guild of America have strongly endorsed SAG’s strategy of holding out for a better deal than the writers achieved after their 100-day strike.

“During its ongoing negotiations, SAG regularly has been criticized for trying to improve on the deal that we made in February,” said WGA West president Patric Verrone and WGA East prez Michael Winship in a Labor Day message to members. “Such criticism is unfounded.  We didn’t win everything in new media that we eventually will.  SAG is well within its rights to improve on our gains.”

SAG sent the WGA missive – the WGA’s most visible show of support to SAG in recent months – to SAG members on Wednesday. In it, Verrone and Winship noted that the WGA had “grudgingly” agreed to budget thresholds for original new media productions, but added that SAG is right to demand coverage for all new media projects, regardless of budget.

SAG has been adamant that it can’t accept the new-media terms of the final offer by the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. The congloms have insisted that they won’t offer SAG a sweeter deal than the WGA, DGA or AFTRA.

“The suggestion that companies need budget breaks in order to experiment in a new medium rings false,” the WGA leaders said. “Experimentation is too often a euphemism for ‘nonunion.’ We agreed in our deal to make initial compensation completely negotiable precisely to give producers all the flexibility they need in these new markets.”

Verrone and Winship also disagreed with the AMPTP’s notion that the Hollywood unions must follow pattern bargaining during each negotiations cycle.

“Unions need to support each other when pattern bargaining is used as an excuse not to address a union’s legitimate concerns,” they added. “We stand behind SAG and its efforts to represent its members’ interests, and we urge the AMPTP to return to the bargaining table.”

SAG and the AMPTP haven’t met since July 16 and the AMPTP hasn’t budged since making the final offer on June 30, the date of the SAG feature-primetime contract expiration. SAG’s insisted repeatedly that it’s hold back-channel talks, prompting the AMPTP to assert that SAG’s lying to conceal their lack of strategy.

In another development Wednesday, the two competing slates vying for control of the SAG national board fired potshots at each other. Ken Howard, a candidate with the challenger Unite for Strength coalition, blasted SAG leaders over the 12-page informational bulletin sent to members last week.

“SAG leadership just spent well over $100,000 of our dues on a ‘special bulletin’ describing how bad the AMPTP’s current contract offer is – and then asking us whether they should negotiate better terms,” Howard said. “The answer is obvious. Of course they should. So why ask?”

Howard then accused SAG’s leaders of using dues money for what’s essentiually a “campaign advertisement” aimed at praising the leadership for “fighting hard” and trying to persuade members to re-elect Membership First board members.

“But unfortunately for them, the mailer also spotlights exactly why we need to elect new leadership,” Howard said. “For over two months we’ve been forced to work under an expired contract, costing us millions of dollars.”

Howard called the informal poll in the missive “expensive and meaningless” and said Membership First needs to stop fighting with AFTRA – as the guild did unsuccessfully when it tried to convince AFTRA members to vote down AFTRA’s primetime deal in July.

Membership First spokeswoman Anne-Marie Johnson told Daily Variety that Howard’s message is duplicitous.

“I think Ken Howard and Unite for Strength would rather that SAG members not know what’s going on,” said Johnson, who’s also a board member and on the SAG negotiating committee. “First they complain that we’re not doing anything and then they complain that we’re spending too much money trying to educate the members. It sounds as if they’d rather the members get their information by relying only on the AMPTP web site.”

Johnson stressed that SAG’s leaders are obligated to present as much as info as possible to members since the unresolved issues have resulted in “the most complicated negotiations that we’ve ever been through.”

For its part, the AMPTP’s derided the SAG mailing as being untruthful and designed to give SAG negotiators only the answer they want to hear.

“The two questions on the postcard ‘poll’ are written in a completely one-sided way, characterizing the June 30 final offer as unfair,” the companies said. “The 12 pages of material accompanying the postcard are just as one-sided and are filled with misrepresentations.”

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