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Writers Guild of America Seeking Sweetened Cable Payments

Current deal expires May 1

Leaders of the Writers Guild of America are placing a premium on hiking compensation for cable shows, according to the union’s latest message to its 12,000 members.

The WGA asked members Thursday to approve its “pattern of demands” letter for its upcoming negotiations with production companies — a constitutionally required step that the guild must take before launching bargaining. The current minimum basic agreement expires May 1 and no date has been set yet for the start of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

The move comes six years after a raucous WGA strike (pictured above) shook Hollywood to the core after negotiations cratered — and three years after the guild opted to go under the radar and quietly negotiate the current master contract.

The “pattern of demands” letter was signed by WGA West president Christopher Keyser and WGA East president Michael Winship. It listed more than a dozen demands, highlighted by an “outsized” increase in basic cable compensation.

Other demands include increased minimum compensation in all areas; increased residuals for made-for basic cable programs and made-for pay television programs; increase in publication fee; establish minimums for original made-for new media programs; increased contributions to Pension Plan and Health Fund;  renew funding for the Showrunner Training Program and limit option periods for TV employment.

“While the pattern does not detail specific proposals that will be made during negotiations, it is designed to inform the memberships of our two Guilds of the general objectives we will pursue,” Keyser and Winship said, noting the letter received unanimous approval from the negotiating committee, the WGA West’s board and the WGA East’s Council.

“The 2014 MBA negotiations will take place in the context of a recovering economy and a healthy, and expanding, media industry,”  Keyser and Winship said. “The broad goal of our negotiating committee will be to build on the gains achieved in past contracts, and to ensure that writers receive their fair share of the proceeds generated by the content they create. The Pattern of Demands is the result of a continuing dialog with our members conducted over the past three years.”

The announcement came three weeks after the Directors Guild of America concluded its negotiations with the AMPTP under a news blackout.That deal contains sweeter terms than the current three-year pact on wage minimums, pension contributions and subscription video on demand.

The DGA, which has a June 30 contract expiration, typically starts its negotiations long before contract expiration while the WGA has usually opted to start far closer to the end of its contract.

SAG-AFTRA has not yet locked in a start date for negotiations for its successor deal to its master contract covering features and primetime TV. The SAG-AFTRA deal runs out June 30 and its wages and working conditions process runs between Jan. 27 and March 14 — a process mandated constitutionally for the union to formulate its contract proposal.

In recent years the unions have remained on relatively good terms with employers — so much so that the last round of negotiations in 2010-11 with the AMPTP 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. Concessions included a freeze on primetime residuals and the end of first-class air travel to sets.

The Writers Guild of America announced on Nov. 13 that it had selected Billy Ray (“The Hunger Games”) and Chip Johannessen as co-chairs of its negotiating committee with WGA West executive director David Young as chief negotiator.

The committee includes several highly recognizable names includes “Batman” writer David S. Goyer, “Lost” exec producer Damon Lindelof and John Bowman, who chaired the negotiating committee during the bitter 2007-08 strike. Bowman and Ray co-chaired the 2010-11 round of negotiations.

The WGA’s two branches, based in Los Angeles and New York, negotiate jointly on the deal.

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