2008 strike impact part of current board campaign

Although the Writers Guild of Ameria’s strike ended two and half years ago, its impact remains very much a part of the current campaign for eight slots on the WGA West board.

Several candidates, in statements posted this week on the guild’s site, emphasized the need to prepare for another strike against the companies, if necessary.

“The fact of the matter is, in MBA negotiations, the companies have never given writers anything substantial without a strike or the threat of one,” said incumbent David A. Goodman. “In every industry, threat of a strike is the strongest piece of leverage a union has.”

The strike lasted 100 days with the WGA agreeing in February 2008 to a deal with similar gains in new media to those in the Directors Guild’s pact.

“Winning that contract required a brutal street fight, one from which no one emerged unscathed,” said incumbent Mark Gunn. “I saw many of you lose jobs, opportunities, development deals, some even lost your homes. None of us ever want to go through that again. But let me be clear: if we must, we will.”

The guild will send out the campaign booklets — complete with endorsements and rebuttals — to the 8,000 WGA West members next week. It will announce results Sept. 17.

The WGA hasn’t yet set a date for contract negotiations for a successor contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. The current deal expires May 1.

“It’s almost time to negotiate with the forces of darkness again,” said Matt Pyken. “Trust me, they’ve tightened up their collective acts. Profits are up across the board. But they’ll use the bad economy to squeeze us regardless of their financial health. The way for this Guild to re-energize and unite the membership for another round with the mega-globo-congloms is to simply and clearly demonstrate competence.”

Incumbent Aaron Mendelsohn, who served on the negotiating committee in 2004 and 2007, warned that AMPTP president Carol Lombardini will probably show a hardline approach. Lombardini succeeded the late Nick Counter last year.

“I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work and how the companies react to various negotiation strategies,” Mendelsohn said. “I’ve also seen the companies grow more brazen over the years. The strike knocked them back on their heels to be sure, but make no mistake, they have regrouped and are back in full monolithic force, and Carol Lombardini is going to be looking to earn her stripes. We need to be strong, unified and vigilant in the face of these conglomerates, and we need to finish what we started in 2007.”

Several candidates emphasized that they want to remove the 17-day window for free streaming in the current deal.

“We all know what the issues are — chief among them at the moment, solidifying our gains in Internet residuals and closing down the dreaded Internet window,” said Erich Hoeber. “I don’t think anyone on either side is looking for a major fight, given everything we’ve been through. But the better organized we are, the more clout we’ll have.”

The DGA’s set to begin its talks with the AMPTP in mid-November following seven weeks of negotations by the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists on Sept. 27. Candidate Naomi Foner said that the WGA needs to communicate with the other unions in advance of contract expirations.

“It is the only way we will survive,” she said. “Our historical rivalry with the DGA has to be overcome. Many of our members belong to both unions. And the DGA is not our enemy. In the new climate/the new business model that we are encountering, we will have to work together.”

Showrunners Matthew Weiner of “Mad Men,” David Shore of “House” and Christopher Keyser of “Lonestar” are among the nominees along with incumbents Katherine Fugate, Karen Harris and Kathy Kiernan. Other candidates are Robin Schiff, Cheryl Heuton, Timothy J. Lea, Mick Betancourt, Erica Montolfo and Steve Skrovan. The elections usually draw roughly 20% participation from the 9,000 members.

Lea warned that proposals will be made to lessen the quality of health insurance and retirement benefits. “We must be prepared to vigorously maintain and improve them,” he added.

Weiner was the only candidate who posted no statement other than listing that he’d been a member since 1996 and had served as a strike captain. And Shore attempted inject some levity into his statement.

“I hope and believe that in my years as a showrunner I have earned a reputation as someone who respects his fellow writers and protects them,” he said. “I hope and believe that during the strike I served honorably. I hope and believe that as a former corporate attorney, I can bring a unique perspective to the next round of negotiations. If you’re still reading this, you’ve been too kind.”

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