The Writers Guild of America will launch contract negotiations with the studios on Feb. 3 on a new master contract — three months prior to the May 1 expiration of the current deal.
The negotiations will take place at the headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers in Sherman Oaks.
The WGA and the AMPTP — which serves as the bargaining arm for production companies — had no comment on the talks. The guild announced in November that Billy Ray (“Captain Phillips”) and Chip Johannessen (an executive producer on “Homeland”) as co-chairs of its negotiating committee with WGA West exec director David Young as chief negotiator.
The negotiating 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.
Leaders of the WGA are placing a premium on hiking compensation for cable shows, according to the union’s most recent message to its 12,000 members. The guild asked members last month to approve its “pattern of demands” letter for the negotiations with production companies — a constitutionally required step before launching bargaining.
The contract negotiations are taking place six years after the raucous 100-day WGA strike shook Hollywood to the core — and three years after the guild opted to go under the radar and quietly negotiate the current master contract.
The “pattern of demands” letter 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; increased publication fee; establishing minimums for original made-for new media programs; increased contributions to Pension Plan and Health Fund; renewed funding for the Showrunner Training Program and a 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,” said WGA West president Christopher Keyser and WGA East president Michael 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 Directors Guild of America went first in the current round of negotiations, reaching a deal with the AMPTP in November. Members ratified the deal — which goes into effect on July 1 — earlier this month.
The AMPTP is likely to assert that the terms of the DGA deal should be applied to the WGA deal as part of “pattern bargaining.”
Gains in the DGA deal include an annual 3% wage increase; increased residuals bases; significant improvements in basic cable; the establishment, for the first time, of minimum terms and conditions for high-budget new media made for subscription video on demand such as Netflix and establishment of a formal diversity program at every major TV studio.
The DGA deal calls for wage increases of 2.5% the first year and 3% for the second and third years; a 0.5% increase in the pension plan with the DGA able to divert that increase to wages in the first year if it chooses; residuals will also increase 2.5% the first year and go up 3% in the second and third years except for network primetime, which will increase by 2% each year.
The DGA pact also includes for the first time specific wages, terms and conditions for “high-budget” original and derivative dramatic new media productions made for SVOD. Additionally, the free streaming window for TV programs has been reduced to seven days after the first seven episodes of a new series.
The DGA 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 start dates for negotiations for their successor deals to master contracts covering features and primetime TV. The SAG-AFTRA deal expires June 30 and its wages and working conditions process began this week and runs to 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 and 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.