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Writers Guild Seeking ‘Fair Share’ of Media Conglomerate Profits of $49 Billion

Leaders of the Writers Guild of America West have taken an aggressive first step toward the upcoming contract negotiations with the industry’s production companies.

The WGA West board of directors told the 8,000 members Tuesday that they plan to seek a bigger cut of the $49 billion in 2015 profits from the top six media conglomerates. The current three-year deal for the guild’s master contract expires in slightly less than a year on May 1.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which acts as the negotiating arm for the companies, was not immediately available for comment.

“49 billion dollars,” the note began. “Now contrast that with the economic picture facing the members of our guild, whose average incomes in both features and series TV have actually decreased over that same decade. And contrast it with the state of our Health Plan which – due to rapid inflation in health care costs nationwide – has now moved into a deficit position. There’s a disparity here, and it needs to be addressed.”

The WGA reached a historic deal in 2014 with minimum terms covering “high-budget new media made for subscription video-on-demand,” such as Netflix. The successor deal also modified the option and exclusivity requirements for TV writers amid seasons that have become shorter than the traditional 22 episodes.

Hollywood’s labor negotiations have been relatively low-key since the bitter 100-day strike by the WGA in 2007-08. The key gain in the 2008 agreement that ended the work stoppage involved expansion of the new media provisions of the master contract.

The WGA West negotiates its contract jointly with the New York-based WGA East, which reps about 4,000 members. The guild has not yet named its negotiating committee or its chairs.

The WGA West’s 2015 report to members showed Hollywood screenwriter earnings slid 5.4% last year to $313.9 million — the fifth straight year of decline — while TV writing earnings rose 2.3% to $725.6 million.

The WGA’s $49 billion figure is based on its calculation of the combined operating profit for CBS,  Comcast, Disney, Fox, Viacom and Warner Bros.

The WGA’s master contract expires two months those of the Directors Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA, both which have a June 30, 2017, expiration date. However, the DGA usually goes first in the negotiations and sets the pattern for the two other guilds.

The DGA announced in mid-February that it had selected Michael Apted and Thomas Schlamme to head its negotiating committee. The WGA and SAG-AFTRA have not made a similar announcement yet.

WGA West Howard Rodman told Variety in February, “We just want to be sure that writers are fairly compensated. There are 408 series on the air, which means the entertainment industry is very popular. So writers get upset by the industry pushing back against them in ways big and small.”

The WGA said it plans to begin member-outreach meetings soon. Here’s the entire message:

Dear Fellow Writers–

49 billion dollars…

Think about that number. It’s the operating profit accumulated in 2015 alone by the six major-media companies with whom we will be negotiating for our new contract next spring – and it is double what their profit-numbers were only a decade ago.

49 billion dollars. Now contrast that with the economic picture facing the members of our guild, whose average incomes in both features and series TV have actually decreased over that same decade.

And contrast it with the state of our Health Plan which – due to rapid inflation in health care costs nationwide – has now moved into a deficit position.

There’s a disparity here, and it needs to be addressed.

Soon we’ll be conducting a series of member-outreach meetings to discuss our goals in the next negotiation (our current contract ends on May 1, 2017). But please know this: those goals are both reasonable and attainable. A mere fraction of one percent of the companies’ profits – profits largely attributable to the content created by you and your fellow WGA members – would easily restore writer income to an appropriate level AND move our benefit plans (health and pension) to a more secure position.

49 billion dollars. Getting our fair share of it will require resolve and solidarity. But in a time of unprecedented profits for our industry, we believe it is our due.

We thank you for your support.

WGAW Board of Directors

Howard A. Rodman – President
David A. Goodman – Vice-President
Aaron Mendelsohn – Secretary-Treasurer
Mara Brock Akil
Scott Alexander
Andrea Berloff
Marjorie David
Carleton Eastlake
Jonathan Fernandez
Katherine Fugate
Chip Johannessen
Michael Oates Palmer
Zak Penn
Luvh Rakhe
Billy Ray
Ari B. Rubin
Shawn Ryan
Meredith Stiehm
Patric M. Verrone

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