Guild backs efforts to unionize

Film and TV composers and lyricists seeking to unionize have gotten the backing of the Writers Guild of America, as well as a handful of Hollywood heavyweights.

The Assn. of Media Composers and Lyricists, as the group is now calling itself – and which hopes to become part of Teamsters Local 399 – will hold its next organizing meeting at 7:30 on April 19 at the Writers Guild Theater.

WGA West president John Wells confirmed that the guild will support the unionization effort. “We think it’s a worthy cause,” he told Daily Variety. “These people are our peers and collaborators, and they certainly deserve to have fair representation, pension and health benefits, as well as standardized working conditions. We will be supportive in any way that we can.”

Organizing committee chairman Bruce Broughton called the WGA endorsement “extremely important” and said the AMCL is seeking support from other guilds in its effort.

Approximately 300 composers and songwriters attended the initial “informational” meeting Nov. 16, with an estimated 200 signing union cards at its conclusion. Since then, several Emmy-winning composers have joined the effort, including Mike Post (“Law & Order”), Sean Callery (“24″), Alf Clausen (“The Simpsons”), James DiPasquale (“The Shell Seekers”) and W.G. Snuffy Walden (“The West Wing”).

“We’re the only people on the set, including the caterers and the secretaries, who don’t have health and welfare,” said Walden. “There are guys coming up, in their 20s and 30s, who are going to be forced out if they can’t even take care of their families.”

Oscar winners Randy Newman and Marilyn and Alan Bergman, and producer-composer Quincy Jones, have also attached their names to the cause.

“I’m for it,” Newman said. “The TV guys are making what they made in the 1960s. They do these all-in deals,” he said, referring to “package” contracts where the composer absorbs all music-related costs and is often left with little compensation for themselves. “That is not right, and it’s gone on,” he said.

Marilyn Bergman, former president of ASCAP, pointed out that composers and songwriters were unionized back in the 1960s and ’70s.

The Composers & Lyricists Guild of America negotiated agreements with producers and studios throughout the 1960s. But a strike, a lawsuit and other disagreements with producers led to the dissolution of the CLGA in 1982.

“What’s happened since then is intolerable, just terrible, particularly for the television composers,” said Bergman. “I think (unionizing) is imperative.”

Broughton, who is a 10-time Emmy winner and former president of the Society of Composers & Lyricists, said that nearly 900 invitations to the April 19 meeting have gone out, but the committee is still attempting to determine just how many composers and lyricists are working regularly in film and TV.

The Teamsters, which successfully organized casting directors in 2006, are believed to want three-fourths of all working composers and lyricists to sign union cards before formalizing a deal to represent them in negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

Broughton said the group would initially seek health and pension benefits but that he expected questions on a variety of workplace-condition topics to surface at the meeting April 19.

“We’re trying to get as many people there as possible — any composer for whom collective bargaining would be a worthwhile thing, which is to say, every composer,” he said.

Orchestration, arranging, conducting and performing are covered under American Federation of Musicians contracts, but not the act of creating music or lyrics. The Society of Composers & Lyricists, whose several hundred members include many of those currently working in film and TV, has taken no position on the unionization push.

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