WGA OKs ‘pattern of demands’ for AMPTP talks

Guild members 97% in favor of contract mandates

The stage has been set for another serious confrontation between showbiz writers and the congloms.

The Writers Guild of America announced Thursday afternoon that its members have overwhelmingly endorsed its list of 22 demands for a successor contract to its current pact, which expires May 1.

Some 2,021 cast ballots, or about one in six of the 12,000 WGA members, with 1,951, or 97%, approving the “pattern of demands.” The support level was slightly higher than four years ago, when 96% approved the pattern out of 3,176 ballots, but there was a 36% decline in participation.

No date’s been set for starting the talks.

“Our thanks to those who voted so strongly in favor, affirming the relevance and importance of the issues outlined in our pattern of demands,” said WGA West president John Wells and WGA East prexy Michael Winship in a joint statement. “This overwhelming support from our joint membership is a powerful mandate for our negotiating committee as it moves forward toward the next MBA.”

The companies, repped through the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, issued a one-sentence response: “The producers are committed to a full and open discussion of the issues and we look forward to working out a new agreement with the Writers Guild of America East and West.”

The 22 issues spelled out in December include increased minimums, higher contributions for pension and health, increased residuals for basic cable and new media, a boost in pay rates at the CW to match those at other networks, increased homevideo residuals and expanding WGA jurisdiction to motion capture, animation and videogames.

The cover letter from Wells and Winship singled out pension and health as a key issue without naming any others.

The WGA announced in July that John Bowman and Billy Ray had been tapped co-chairs of its negotiating committee. Bowman chaired the committee during the last contract talks with the AMPTP, which began in July 2007 and didn’t conclude for seven more months at the end of the strike.

The WGA revealed in the “pattern of demands” letter that the other members of the negotiating committee include screenwriters Andrew Bergman and Stephen Schiff, “Lost” showrunner Damon Lindelof and Mike Scully, a longtime writer and exec producer on “The Simpsons.” Others on the panel include Alfredo Barrios, John Brancato, Patti Carr, Jonathan Fernandez, David A. Goodman, Chip Johannessen, Ron Moore, Jeremy Pikser, Shawn Ryan and Thania St. John.

The WGA began outlining key issues in the fall that were under consideration by the scribes’ leaders. Since then, the WGA has held several town hall meetings for members but it’s also avoided making public comments about the negotiations.

For its part, the AMPTP reached deals in November on the feature-primetime contacts with the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists and the Directors Guild of America. The pacts contain a 2% gain in minimum salaries, a hike in pension and health contributions from employers and the elimination of requiring first-class air travel when creatives are required to journey to sets.

The congloms are certain to contend that the WGA will have to accept the same basic deal as part of “pattern” bargaining. The AMPTP set a hard line this summer in talks with Teamster drivers, insisting that it would take a strike rather than boost wages more than 2%.

The WGA has tended to opt for starting negotiations closer to expiration than its counterparts. In 2001 and 2004, the deals were negotiated after the contracts expired; in 2007, talks didn’t start until three months prior to expiration and went nowhere due to profound disagreements on new media and residuals, with the companies launching negotiations with a proposal that the WGA agree to ditch the residuals structure in favor of a profit-based system.

The major gains for the actors and directors came in pension and health contributions. Under the new deals going into effect June 30, employers will pay 15.5% for the DGA and 16.5% for SAG and AFTRA.

Employers of WGA members currently pay 14.5% (8.5% health, 6% pension) on top of every dollar of compensation into the pension and health plans. Those plans are operated separately from the unions, with an industry-union board overseeing each.

Winship and Wells have said in recent interviews that the strike helped build rapport within the WGA.

“For us, the strike explained our position on many levels,” Winship said. “It really created a community and galvanized everyone.”

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