Three years after a landmark strike, leaders of the Writers Guild of America are moving toward official approval of a new master contract — one that falls far short of the guild’s ambitious goals but tacitly acknowledges the change in economic climate and members’ focus over the intervening years.
The WGA West’s board of directors were meeting Monday evening to OK the tentative pact. Should the WGA West board and the WGA East Council approve the three-year deal, a ratification vote by the guild’s 12,000 members is expected take place over the next several weeks.
The WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers had no comment about the pact, announced Sunday evening by the guild’s negotiating committee in a message to members. The low-key negotiations with the majors that preceded the announcement never raised the specter of another work stoppage, and the deal essentially mirrors the pacts ratified earlier this year by the town’s actors and directors.
Unsaid in Sunday’s message: The WGA leaders clearly believed that guild members would not support another strike, even though there was broad backing for the key demands that the WGA laid out at the outset of bargaining on March 3.
And it was telling that the WGA’s negotiating committee never asked for a strike authorization vote.
In addition, the WGA made only a few perfunctory moves to fire up the membership, in sharp contrast to its extensive pre-strike efforts to galvanize the scribe tribe in 2006 and 2007. It sent out a pair of “pattern of demands” letters to members that singled out a bread-and-butter issue — the need to increase employer contributions in pension and health — and listed 22 demands including such nonstarters as increasing homevid residual rates.
“The membership went through a lot of hardship due to the strike, so you can’t really ask for a strike authorization if you don’t have the support of the members,” said labor attorney Scott Witlin of Barnes & Thornburg. “It’s not surprising that they followed the pattern set by the other guilds.”
Key gains cited by the WGA in its message to members include a hike in pension contributions to 7.5% of total compensation, up from 6%; a 20% increase in pay TV residuals; and a 2% increase in minimums. Concessions included freezing the network primetime residual rates and elimination of the first-class travel provision when writers are required to fly to sets.
The negotiating committee also took the unusual step of singling out two “crucial” areas in which it fell short — basic cable residual rates and jurisdiction related to motion-capture productions — signaling that those issues may be a major focus in the 2014 negotiations.
“Minimum compensation and residual rates in basic cable remain far too low and must still be addressed,” the message said. “We were also unable to clarify our jurisdiction over the rapidly evolving digital production technologies represented by motion capture.”
The WGA and the AMPTP launched negotiations on March 3 and had planned to negotiate through last Friday but then extended the talks for two more days and reached the tentative deal. The pact came six weeks before the May 1 expiration of the contract — another change in tactics for the WGA, which had negotiated past expiration in 2001, 2004 and 2007.
Guild members demonstrated their intention to take a more moderate approach to negotiations in 2009 when John Wells was elected WGA West prexy over Elias Davis — an ally of past prexy Patric Verrone, who was termed out but remains a WGA West board member.
There has been speculation that the WGA West faction that arduously supported the Verrone regime during the strike may oppose the new contract, and that this year’s negotiations could be an issue in the WGA’s prexy election in September. It’s unclear whether Wells intends to run for re-election.