Strike Watch: Cautious Optimism Spreads as WGA, AMPTP Face Midnight Deadline

WGA Strike Placeholder
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

Negotiators for the WGA and Hollywood studios left the bargaining table Sunday evening with more cautious optimism about the prospect of avoiding a strike than when they sat down earlier in the day.

Sources on both sides said there was enough incremental movement on key issues during Sunday’s sessions to foster hope that the sides can come close enough to terms today to avert the start of a strike on Tuesday. The WGA’s current master contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers expires at midnight PT tonight. 

The sides are scheduled to meet today at AMPTP headquarters in Sherman Oaks around 11 a.m. PT. Although there were positive signs on Sunday, one source cautioned that today will nonetheless be an arduous day of negotiations. The studios are awaiting the WGA’s response to new proposals made on Sunday.

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The most significant progress made on Sunday surrounded funding for the guild’s over-taxed health insurance plan. The studios are said to have significantly raised their offer of a lump-sum influx of nearly $90 million, up from the previous offer of around $60 million. The sides also are said to have met in the middle on the amount of savings that WGA administrators would seek from the plan in exchange for the payment. That number is said to have settled at around $6 million-$7 million over the three-year term of the master contract, up from the $3 million offered by the WGA but down from the $10 million initially sought by the studios.

The sides have also made progress on the “span” issue regarding the compensation formula and work terms for writers working on short-order series, those that run less than the broadcast standard of 22-24 episodes per season. The AMPTP has slowly but surely sweetened the offer on the span issue in an effort to assure writers that they recognize the financial pressure on working writers with industry’s shift toward shows that run 6-13 episodes per season.

Sources close to the situation cautioned that there are still some outstanding points on the span question, such as the timing of when writers would qualify for extra compensation. But observers also believe that there’s enough of an offer on the table that would make it hard for span to become a hot-button strike issue at this point.

The WGA’s push for parity in script fees across broadcast TV (the highest-paid venue), pay and basic cable and streaming, and for gains in new media residual structures remain thorny issues. Sources indicate the studios are proposing a gradual elimination of historic discounts for cable and streaming, but not all in one year as sought by the guild. Again, industry observers doubt whether these gradations of compensation are the kind of lightning rods that would drive working WGA members to hit the streets with picket signs.

The CEOs of the major studios have been keeping close tabs on the talks as the deadline approaches. By multiple accounts, Hollywood leaders have worked to build consensus on their response to the WGA’s contract demands and to find places to give in order to avoid the disruption of a strike. The CEOs are mindful of the leadership vacuum a decade ago that led AMPTP negotiators to back the WGA into a corner, paving the way for the 100-day walkout that shuttered film and TV production from November 2007-February 2008.

Sources said CEOs and senior managers of the largest TV and film divisions are expected to hold separate conference calls this morning to discuss the state of the talks.

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  1. Mark says:

    Being a part of the industry for 30 years I always saw the writer’s previous strikes as kind of a comedy. They always occurred when most shows were on hiatus anyway(at least in previous seasons when there were not as many production avenues such as Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, etc….) so the writers did not have much of a bargaining tool. Now since production is year round maybe there will be more pressure on the studios to be more benevolent.

    • Jeff E. says:

      This is also a critical time the broadcast networks, as they will have to cancel their upfronts if there’s no deal and no broadcast network show will be able to go into production this summer without scripts.

  2. Hollywood Union Worker says:

    Its so funny much of this is over health care. Yet Hollywood cheered the Affordable Care Act in 2010 saying it would solve all health care woes. And now Hollywood is complaining more about their health care.

    Even funnier is all these negotiations will do nothing to stop their health plans from being destroyed by the Cadillac Tax in the ACA. Come 2018 there will be a 40% excise tax on their health plans.

    They are negotiating against themselves or are too ignorant to know they doomed themselves by supporting the ACA. The Auto Workers Union, the AFL-CIO, and every other union knows the Cadillac Tax will destroy their health plans. Yet none want to admit the ACA is a disaster.

    Strike or don’t strike, but your health plans are doomed in 2018 regardless of what comes of this.

    • Jeff E. says:

      You don’t know what you’re talking about, and I seriously doubt you’re a Hollywood Union Worker. Health care is an issues precisely because it’s uncertainty under the new regime in Washington. The ACA is NOT a disaster. It can be shored up. Trumpcare would be a disaster. In any event, that’s why the WGA is negotiating a better contribution to its health care plan.

      • Hollywood Union Worker says:

        Look into the Cadillac Tax, Jeff. Say goodbye to any good health plan…or expect to pay A LOT MORE. It was designed as a penalty to make all health plans government regulated and equal.

        The Writers Guild said in 2015 that the Cadillac Tax needed to be repealed. Now the WGA is trying desperately to avoid the Cadillac Tax and forcing studios to pay for it. The past administration kicked the Cadillac Tax down the road and now the strike is more a mess of the ACA. You can’t try to blame the new administration for this one. The law was a mess in 2010 and its only gonna get worse.

    • Famous Hollywood Writer 72 says:

      You got it right on the money, Jack

      Good to see there’s still some independent thinking left in this burned out town

  3. Famous Hollywood Writer 72 says:

    11 AM??! what, are they all out getting brunch?

    • Jeff E. says:

      No, they’re reviewing the lasted proposal and preparing a response. You know, conducting a responsible negotiation.

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