Chris Keyser
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Elections set for September

Christopher Keyser is running unopposed for a second two-year term as the president of the Writers Guild of America West — though an opponent could emerge via nominating petition.

The guild released a list of candidates chosen by its nominating committee Friday, disclosing that the opponent selected by the panel had declined for the election. Candidates can still be nominated for the next month by petition with 50 signatures and a July 23 deadline.

Results will be announced Sept. 17. The WGA West has about 8,000 members while the WGA East reps about 4,000 members. The WGA East has not yet disclosed its candidates for its next election, which also takes place in September.

Keyser topped former WGA president Patric Verrone two years ago by a 3-to-2 margin. Keyser offered a marked low-key contrast with Verrone’s confrontational style, highlighted by the high drama of the 100-day strike that ended on Feb. 12, 2008.

Keyser was able to portray himself as a more pragmatic, less divisive leader during his 2011 campaign, setting up a showdown that amounted to partly to a referendum on the effectiveness of the strike.

Verrone is among the 16 candidates seeking the eight open board seats. Incumbent VP Howard Rodman will run against  Timothy J. Lea and incumbent secretary-treasurer Carl Gottlieb will face Dan Wilcox.

Five incumbents are seeking to be re-elected to the board — Thania St. John, Carleton Eastlake, Billy Ray, Alfredo Barrios, Jr., and “Man of Steel” screenwriter David Goyer. Besides Verrone, the other challengers for the board are Andrew Goldberg, Cynthia Riddle, Ari B. Rubin, Nancy Miller, Jonathan Fernandez, Henry Alonso Myers, Flint Dille, Lee Aronsohn, David Maples  and Karen Harris.

Keyser — best known as the “Party of Five” showrunner — has been gearing up for what could be contentious contract talks in the next negotiations cycle.  The WGA has not yet named the chiefs of its negotiating committee nor set a date for starting talks with the companies on a deal to replace the current three-year pact that expires May 1, 2014.

Since the strike, the WGA, SAG-AFTRA and the DGA have remained on relatively good terms with employers, and the last round of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, in 2010-11, was completed largely under the radar and without controversy. In all three successor contracts, the key gains were a 2% hike in minimums and a 1.5% increase in employer contributions to the pension and health plans.

Keyser said earlier this year that strike was not much of a factor in the guild’s planning discussions for the negotiations.

“The conversation is very forward looking, and members are not replaying the strike,” he said. “We are spending an enormous amount of time on negotiations, but we won’t talk about priorities for many more months.”

The WGA West’s most recent earnings report, released last July, showed that overall 2011 earnings dropped 5.9% from the previous year to $911.7 million. The decline was due to a 12.6% plunge in feature film salaries to $349.1 million as the six major studios focused more of their resources on tentpoles while making fewer mid-budget features.

New-media reuse of TV programs — one of the key issues during the WGA strike — grew 11.9% to $2.91 million in the fourth year of collections in that area.

Signalling continuity in the executive suite, the WGA West board gave a five-year contract extension earlier this year to exec director David Young, who organized the 2007-08 work stoppage. He was widely credited for running a well-organized strike featuring extensive picketing and rallies that benefited from strong support by SAG and the Teamsters.

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