Writers Guild Taps ‘Hunger Games’ writer Billy Ray, Chip Johannessen to Co-Chair Negotiating Panel

Current contract expires May 1

The Writers Guild of America has 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 current agreement expires May 1, and no date has been set for a successor deal on its master contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

The WGA’s two branches, based in Los Angeles and New York, negotiate jointly on the deal. The guild had no further comment, and the AMPTP had no comment.

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.

Young was widely credited with effectively mobilizing the membership and gathering support from high-profile actors during the 100-day work stoppage. Earlier this year, the WGA West board gave him a five-year contract extension.

Other members of the negotiating committee are John Aboud, John August, Alfredo Barrios, Jr., Adam Brooks, Marjorie David, Ian Deitchman, Jonathan Fernandez, Terry George, Susannah Grant, Erich Hoeber, Jenny Lumet, Jason Ross, Shawn Ryan, Bill Scheft, Robin Schiff, Stephen Schiff, Micah Wright and Nicole Yorkin.

Ex-officio members include Chris Keyser, WGA West president; Michael Winship, WGA East president; Howard A. Rodman, WGA West VP; Jeremy Pikser, WGA East VP; Carl Gottlieb, WGA West secretary-treasurer; and Bob Schneider, WGA East secretary-treasurer.

The announcement came more than a week after the Directors Guild of America launched its negotiations with the AMPTP under a news blackout. 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.

The WGA is required to send out a “pattern of demands” letter to its 12,000 members as part of its process of formulating a contract proposal to the AMPTP.

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.

DGA leaders have long espoused the notion that negotiating well before expiration is the best strategy for extracting the best terms from the AMPTP with a “premium” in exchange for the guarantee of labor peace.

The WGA West’s leaders told members earlier this year that they did not expect negotiations to start until next year — which is in line with the writers’ strategy of negotiating closer to expiration in hopes that the looming threat of a work stoppage may encourage companies to make the best deal possible.

SAG-AFTRA has already announced that it will hold its “wages and working conditions” process between Jan. 27 and March 14. That process is mandated constitutionally for the union to formulate its contract proposal.

The DGA came into the spotlight in early 2008 during the latter stages of the bitter WGA strike, closing an agreement spelling out specifics of jurisdiction over new-media productions and reuse, and guaranteed access to the new-media deals and data. The new-media provisions in the DGA pact subsequently became the template for the WGA, SAG and AFTRA deals.

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.

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