Ballots are due by 9 a.m. on April 27

The Writers Guild of America has started the final step in its current negotiations, mailing out ratification ballots on a new three-year master contract to its 12,000 members of the Writers Guild of America.

Ballots are due by 9 a.m. on April 27. Members can also vote at meetings on the previous evening at WGA West and WGA East headquarters.

The ballots and 12-page booklets have gone out with the unanimous approval of the WGA West board and the WGA East council after an essentially drama-free negotiation. Deal was reached March 20 after two and half weeks of talks.

WGA West president John Wells and WGA East prexy Michael Winship touted in a cover letter the hike in pension contributions to 7.5% of total compensation, up from 6%. “This is welcome security at a time when many pension funds are under attack from politicians and employers,” the duo said.

Wells and Winship also asserted that the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers had proposed rollbacks during the negotiations and that the bitter 2007-08 strike had given negotiators leverage at the bargaining table.

“Writers have demonstrated throughout our guilds’ colletive histories that they will fight for what they believe in,” they said. “Although these negotiations were nowhere near as contentious as our last round with the companies, there were times when we had to stand firm against proposed rollbacks. Because of the solidarity you’ve shown in the past, our positions were taken seriously and we were able to reach an agreement that moves our two guilds and the industry forward.”

Other than the ballot and a letter from the negotiating committee announcing the deal to members, the WGA leadership hasn’t commented publicly on the contract — a sharp contrast with the massive PR campaign during the bitter 100-day strike that shook Hollywood.

Negotiating committee chiefs John Bowman and Billy Ray made a similar acknowledgment in a letter to members.

“It is certainly the case that this MBA negotiation was different from the last,” Bowman and Ray said. “The tentative agrteement was concluded after less than three weeks of neogtiations and more than a month before the expiration of the 2008 MBA. There are reasons for this difference: an economy still recovering from a deep recession; an economic pattern set in negotiations with other unions; and the willingness of the companies to address the guild’s msot pressing need regarding the solvency of the pension plan.”

Besides the gain in pension contributions, the Bowman-Ray letter cited a 20% increase in pay TV residuals; and a 2% increase in minimums. The pension contribution can be increased in the second or third years through switching some or all of the 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. Basic terms of the WGA deal follow the general pattern set in pacts ratified earlier this year by the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists and the Directors Guild of America.

The guild included a single pro-ratification statement from member Ari B. Rubin that urged guild members to support efforts for the WGA to act in concert with SAG and the DGA at the next round of negotiations rather than to allow the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers to “divide and conquer.”

“We continue down this road at our own peril,” Rubin said. “When our three guilds negotiate as a monolith, we the filmmakers set the terms. The WGA worked hard this round. The 2011 contract has been settled the best it could be. But we can all do better. Let us turn now at once to 2014. Forego the meetings in Lew Wasserman’s office. Instead, let all three guilds turn to building the powerful voice we deserve. Let us stand divided no more.”

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