Hollywood on Edge as AMPTP, WGA Point Fingers After Talks End

WGA Writers Contract Talks
Jim Cooke for Variety

Hollywood’s blood pressure is rising. The decision unveiled Friday night by the Writers Guild of America to seek a strike authorization vote, following two weeks of contract talks with the major studios and networks, has the industry on edge about the prospect of a work stoppage.

The WGA West’s board of directors is expected to vote Monday night on the negotiating committee’s request for a strike authorization vote. The WGA East’s governing council is expected to consider the matter on Tuesday. If approved, which seems likely lest the guilds’ leaders appear divided, the ballots could be out by next week. As of Monday, there was no date on the calendar for the sides to resume talks.

A strike authorization vote doesn’t mean the writers will immediately walk, but it does enable the boards of West and East to call for a strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers companies after the current Minimum Basic Agreement covering film and TV work expires May 1. Friday’s announcement marks the first time the WGA has sought a strike authorization against the AMPTP since 2007, the last time scribes hit the picket lines.

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WGA East

WGA Negotiators Call for Strike Authorization

There’s been a short runway for strike talk this time around compared to the environment a decade ago, when the guild spent more than a year organizing and educating members on the issues at hand. This time around, the studios have had far less notice to stockpile scripts, which means the pipeline of product would shut off that much faster in many cases. Even TV shows with a season’s worth of finished scripts would be hard-pressed to complete production without showrunners on the job.

The finger-pointing on Friday night between the guild in its message to members and the AMPTP in its statement was a disconcerting echo of the 100-day battle that raged from Nov. 5, 2007 to Feb. 12, 2008.

The guild asserted that the studios have largely refused to respond to their efforts to address the financial strains that many TV writers in particular are facing amid broad changes in the industry. And the WGA health plan is in need of a capital influx to avoid a big shortfall in the future. The wrangling over this issue led the WGA to describe the AMPTP’s proposals on benefit cuts to shore up health care as “rollbacks.” The AMPTP, meanwhile, chided the guild for ending the negotiations on Friday “in order to secure a strike vote rather than directing its efforts at reaching an agreement at the bargaining table.”

One industry observer with experience in Hollywood labor negotiations opined Monday that there still does not appear to be a clear-cut “strike issue” on the table that would energize film and TV writers to take to the streets. Work is plentiful in the Peak TV era, although the need for writers to balance multiple jobs in a year to maintain the income levels once provided by a traditional gig on a 22-episode-per-season drama is one of the big pain points.

In 2007, the guild was focused on getting a foot in the door of the digital content arena that has since exploded on the foundation of high-end TV series productions that all start with WGA members. The rallying cry then was simple. The WGA pointed to the guild’s failure to push hard for a stake of the profits from the home video revolution and urged members not to make the same mistake again with digital.

This time around, the observer said, the issues of compensation and the structure of employment terms that are becoming onerous to mid- and lower-level writers “could be dealt with easily if people are willing to sit at the table and be reasonable.”

Still, the mood among many writers is volatile — even more so at a time when a spirit of activism and “resistance” has been spurred by the widespread opposition to the Trump administration. An exchange of heated rhetoric from both camps in the coming days could inflame the situation.

By many accounts, leadership of the AMPTP is mindful of the need for delicate handling of the talks. The hardball stance taken at the start of the negotiations in 2007 gave the WGA plenty of ammo to convince writers of the need for a strike. At the same time, the onset of a strike authorization vote could stir up a more militant stance among WGA members, adding pressure for negotiators to deliver meaningful gains in the new contract.

A key indicator to watch, according to industry veterans, is how long it takes for the sides to agree to go back to the table. With the contract expiring on May 1, the clock is already ticking.

Dave McNary contributed to this report. 

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  1. Lisa says:

    Wow, I’m having deja vu.

  2. Craftyguy says:

    Just give them the same damn thing you gave the DGA and everyone will be happy and we can all stop worrying about some bs strike.

  3. Make Critics Great Again says:

    Pure anti union propaganda. Shame on Variety and shame on phony “liberals” who don’t believe in healthcare for all.

  4. M33 says:

    No one can change the law of supply and demand, there are MANY talented writers in and out of the WGA that are all hungry for work. The real issue is the entire Hollywood system is severely overinflated and the corporate hacks will continue to cut wherever they can to fight for the scraps of the old business models they were taught in law/business school. The industry is evolving and sadly, creatives are the least valued. You can strike and possibly even get what you want, for now. Eventually this house of cards will come tumbling down as a new generation of writers enter the playground… Obsolescence is a bigger threat to established writers than who’s going to pick your health plan, trust me, it is already happening.

  5. Justin says:

    Striking is a hardship, for sure. Not striking is also a hardship, just one that is less immediate and more subtle. It’s like saying you don’t want to get a vaccine because the needle hurts today, when the disease you contract may cause a slow and painful death in the future. If it’s not important to you that writers have paid family leave — don’t strike. If you don’t care about a solvent healthcare fund and the ability for your family members to have access to incredible medical care and mental health counseling — don’t strike. If you’re cool working nine months on a 10-episode Netflix series and getting paid a fraction of what a writer would’ve been paid for similar work a decade ago — don’t strike. If you’d rather have your contracts, finances, and health dictated by some of the most profitable corporations in America rather than your fellow writers — don’t strike. If, however, you can see past the length of your nose and believe that getting a good and fair deal is important, then you should probably approve a strike.

    Far too often, the writers (those with less power than the largest media conglomerates in the world) are blamed for “causing” the strike. Why won’t they just take what they are given? Why rock the boat? In reality, the writers are making incredibly fair demands this year — if they get all that they want, they will merely be brought back to parity with previous decades. The strike is not a boon — it’s designed to stop a further decline.

    If the greedy AMPTP decides it wants to ride this one out, the writers are ready. Believe me, the Trump administration has this group fired UP. They are more than willing to protest and scrap for what they deserve. If you don’t want things to get ugly, blame the titans of industry. Not the lowly writers.

    • Jane says:

      Justin,

      The nice thing about your comment is that it saves me time; as soon as I see your name, I know I’ve read the comment before on a different site.

      No doubt your comments are sincere, but when you post the same thing on every site, it makes you appear like you’re commenting at the behest of the WGA.

      Now, here’s my comment. You may read a version of it on another site, but it won’t be copy and paste: I’ve lived through strikes in a couple of industries. The only people who will come out okay are the folks at the v top and the folks at the v bottom. The middle will get royally screwed. This is especially true in a union where a lot of the most vocal “to the barricades” members have done little more than meet the minimum qualifications for membership, and probably will always be in that position.

      Talent will out. If you’re not making a living writing, no contract in the world will change that. . . it may make incremental changes, but only talent will make a big change.

      Have a good day.

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