The key players for the next round of guild contract talks are now in place.
With another complex set of labor negotiations looming, the majors opted for stability by promoting Carol Lombardini to prexy of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. Her appointment comes eight months after Nick Counter announced his retirement following nearly 30 years as the majors’ top labor negotiator.
Lombardini is likely to face a much different dynamic in the next round of talks than she and Counter experienced in the last round, when the WGA went on strike for 100 days and SAG took a year to close its feature-primetime deal.
Presidential elections at the WGA West and SAG last month ushered in regime changes and leaders who have vowed to tone down the confrontational rhetoric that characterized the 2007-08 contract talks.
Still, the guilds and AMPTP will have to grapple with issues regarding new-media compensation, as they evaluate the residual formulas that were introduced in the most recent contracts. They’ll also likely have to address shortcomings in the guild-sponsored health and pension plans, which have been battered by the economic downturn.
The AMPTP is contractually bound to begin negotiations with SAG this time next year for the successor to the contract that expires June 30, 2011, as does the DGA deal. The WGA’s pact expires two months earlier.
Lombardini has been involved in more than 300 negotiations during a 27-year career at the AMPTP. She’s been acting prexy since Counter’s departure in March.
In the end, Lombardini was the unanimous choice among the AMPTP member companies following interviews with half a dozen candidates. Sony Pictures topper Michael Lynton, Warner Bros. chairman-CEO Barry Meyer and NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker made up the committee that oversaw the selection process.
Lombardini, viewed as more low-key than Counter, has specialized in the drafting and interpretation of contract language, while Counter focused on negotiations and strategy — a complex task given the different priorities for the congloms that dominate the AMPTP.
“I look forward to leading the AMPTP as the businesses of our member companies evolve,” Lombardini said. “I am also committed to building on my longstanding relations with our bargaining partners across the entertainment industry. The most important challenge we face is finding ways for the companies and guilds and unions to reach agreements that do everything possible to keep the business vital.”
Counter was able to maintain labor peace in Hollywood for much of his tenure at the AMPTP but became a much-vilified figure during the WGA’s walkout. Counter’s stance on new media and strategy of pursuing the controversial notion of shifting all residual formulas to a recoupment-based blueprint was widely viewed as helping solidify the resolve of WGA members to support the strike.
Studio honchos have been pleased with recent political developments within the unions. SAG has seen its leadership tilt toward a more moderate stance in the past two elections, as illustrated by Ken Howard’s appointment as prexy last month. John Wells took the reins of the WGA West, a move seen as a vote by scribes to tap into his biz relationships and experience in contract negotiations.
When Counter announced his retirement in February, the AMPTP employed a search firm that interviewed about a dozen candidates. It’s understood that Lomdardini emerged as the favorite due to her extensive background in hammering out the nuances of the labor agreements.
“She has a proven track record as a negotiator, deep knowledge of labor issues and excellent relationships throughout the industry with guilds, unions and the member companies alike,” Meyer said in a statement.
Lombardini, an attorney by training, has served as general counsel; VP of legal affairs; senior VP of legal and business affairs; and exec VP of legal and business affairs.