Hardline WGA West faction sets candidates

The hardline Writers United faction, which has dominated WGA West politics in recent years, appears to be prepping a slate in what promises to be an active election campaign.

Elias Davis, who’s facing John Wells for the presidency, told Daily Variety that Writers United candidates will include Tom Shulman for VP and David Weiss for secretary-treasurer.

He said other slate candidates had not been determined yet but it’s probable current president Patric Verrone — who’s running for a board seat — as well as board incumbents Howard Rodman and Dan Wilcox will be included. “I’m running because I feel I can still contribute to WGAW governance (if the membership will have me) and, yes, I expect to be part of a Writers United slate,” Verrone said in response to an inquiry.

“I’m looking forward to the campaign because I think we’ll be able to show the members that our hearts are with them,” Davis said.

He’s been the WGA West secretary-treasurer since 2005.

He declined to comment about Wells’ surprise candidacy but indicated the Writers United slate would stress — as it did during the 2007-08 strike — the importance of appropriate compensation for work in new media and when scribes’ work is reused on digital platforms.

“We see ourselves as pragmatists by focusing on new media,” Davis said. “That’s a very pragmatic approach when the business is moving inexorably toward the Internet.”

Davis has a long string of TV credits including “Frasier,” “MASH,” “Cheers,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The New Dick Van Dyke Show.” He won a WGA Award for “Steambath,” a comedy series Emmy for “Frasier” and a Humanitas Award.

“The issue of how we’re paid for reuse of our work on the Internet is not an abstract issue for me in the least,” he added. “Residuals are where I and lot of other writers live. We writers are proud of being writers — and that we contribute to the success of the companies — so we need to share in that success.”

The election, particularly the Wells-Davis contest, will serve as a referendum on how members view Writers United. The faction came to power in the 2005 elections with Verrone heading the slate of WGA activists disappointed by the 2001 and 2004 contract negotiations.

The slate advocated a more aggressive negotiating posture plus allocation of more resources toward organizing — and immediately canned exec director John McLean, replacing him with David Young, a veteran organizer with no showbiz background.

Young was credited with running the strike capably. In the deal signed at the end of the strike, the companies spelled out and improved how writers are paid for work that’s streamed over the Internet, while the WGA backed off from its demands for guaranteed jurisdiction over reality TV and animation writers.

But the WGA has invested heavily in efforts to organize story editors and other staffers on reality shows, and those efforts haven’t panned out yet. Verrone’s report to members last month indicated that over the past two years, the guild’s biggest jurisdictional gains have come in cable with two dozen cable skeins signed, including 15 on Comedy Central.

Verrone also disclosed in the report that the WGA has made deals with 26 companies in new media; 44 interactive agreements; and deals on 15 low-budget features and three foreign-produced projects. He also noted that the WGA has continued to pressure FremantleMedia over its refusal to agree to guild coverage.

In March, the WGA West cut more than a dozen of its 185 employees as a result of an annual operating deficit of more than $2 million as the guild cited the negative effects of the global economic crisis.

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