WGA Negotiators Call for Strike Authorization

WGA East
Hope Lourie Killcoyne

Leaders of the Writers Guild of America have asked their 12,000 members for strike authorization, following two weeks of negotiations.

The WGA leaders have asserted that the talks with the Alliance of Motion Pictures & Television Producers, which launched March 13, have been unproductive and contain two major rollbacks in the guild’s health plan. The AMPTP accused the WGA of breaking off the talks.

“First, they have demanded that we make cuts to the plan – $10 million in the first year alone,” the WGA negotiating team said in a letter to members. “In return, they will allow us to fund the plan with money diverted from our own salaries. More, they’ve demanded the adoption of a draconian measure in which any future shortfalls to the plan would be made up by automatic cuts in benefits – and never by increases in employer contributions.”

“This, too, is unacceptable. The package, taken as a whole, is unacceptable – and we would be derelict in our duty if we accepted it.”

Sources have told Variety that the negotiations have centered in recent days on the health plan, which has been forced to draw on reserves in recent years.

The AMPTP responded to the guild’s letter Friday evening in a statement: “The WGA broke off negotiations at an early stage in the process in order to secure a strike vote rather than directing its efforts at reaching an agreement at the bargaining table. Keeping the industry working is in everyone’s best interests, and we are ready to return to negotiations when they are.”

The WGA accused the companies of offering “barely a single hard-dollar gain for writers” at a time when the six major media conglomerates are seeing $51 billion in yearly profits, acccording to the guild’s calculations.

The strike authorization vote — approved unanimously by the WGA negotiatprs — will take place with the current three-year contract expiring in five weeks on May 1. It comes 10-years after a bitter strike against the production companies that lasted 100 days, after WGA leaders sought a strike authorization a month before the expiration.

The letter did not give a timetable for conducting the vote.

“Therefore, your Negotiating Committee has voted unanimously to recommend that the WGAW Board of Directors and WGAE Council conduct a strike authorization vote by the membership,” the letter concluded. “Once again, we are committed to continue negotiating with the companies in good faith to get you the deal we all deserve. We will continue to update you as things progress.”

Here’s the entire letter:

 

Dear Colleague,

The initial two-week bargaining period agreed to by your Guild and the AMPTP concludes at the end of the day today. We do not yet have a deal. We will continue to bargain in good faith to make such a deal. But, at this point, we want to let you know where we stand.

We began the negotiations with two truths about the current state of the business at the heart of our proposals:

First, that these have been very profitable years for the companies. This past year they earned $51 billion in profits, a record.

Second, that the economic position of writers has declined sharply in the last five or so years. Screenwriters have been struggling for a long time. They are now joined by television writers, for whom short seasons are at the core of the problem. In the last two years alone, the average salary of TV writer-prod ucers fell by 23%. Those declines have not been offset by compensation in other areas. In Basic Cable and new media, our script fees and residual formulas continue to trail far behind those in broadcast – even though these new platforms are every bit as profitable as the old model.

In light of all this, we sought to tackle a number of issues that directly affect the livelihoods of all writers.

–We asked for modest gains for screenwriters, most particularly a guaranteed second-step for writers earning below a certain compensation level.

–We asked for a rational policy on family leave.

–We sought to address chronically low pay for Comedy Variety writers.

–We asked for 3% increases in minimums – and increases in the residual formula for High Budget SVOD programs commensurate with industry standards.

–We made a comprehensive proposal to deal with the pernicious effects of short seasons. This included a lim it on the amortization of episodic fees to two weeks, a proposal that sought to replicate the standard that had been accepted in the business for decades. It addressed, as well, the continued problems with Options and Exclusivity. And it sought to address the MBA’s outdated schedule of weekly minimums, which no longer adequately compensates writers for short terms of work.

–Finally, we sought to address script fee issues – in basic cable and streaming – but also in the case of Staff Writers. Unconscionably, our lowest paid members are now often held at the staff level for multiple seasons, with no compensation for the scripts they write.

What was the companies’ response to these proposals?

No, in virtually every case.

–Nothing for screenwriters. Nothing for Staff Writers. Nothing on diversity.

–On Family Leave they rejected our proposal and simply pledged to obey all applicable State and Fe deral laws – as if breaking the law were ever an option.

–On short seasons, they offered a counter-proposal that addressed the issue in name only – thus helping no one.

–They have yet to offer anything on minimums, or on HBSVOD.

–They have made some small moves on Options & Exclusivity – some small moves for Comedy Variety writers in Pay TV. But that is all.

On the last day of these two weeks, the companies’ proposal has barely a single hard-dollar gain for writers.

$51 billion in profits and barely a penny for those of us who make the product that makes the companies rich. But that’s not all.

In response to our proposal to protect our Pension and Health Plans, this has been their answer:

Nothing on Pension.

And on our Health Plan, two big rollbacks.

First, they have demanded that we make cuts to the plan – $10 million in the first year alone. In r eturn, they will allow us to fund the plan with money diverted from our own salaries.

More, they’ve demanded the adoption of a draconian measure in which any future shortfalls to the plan would be made up by automatic cuts in benefits – and never by increases in employer contributions.

This, too, is unacceptable. The package, taken as a whole, is unacceptable – and we would be derelict in our duty if we accepted it.

Therefore, your Negotiating Committee has voted unanimously to recommend that the WGAW Board of Directors and WGAE Council conduct a strike authorization vote by the membership.

Once again, we are committed to continue negotiating with the companies in good faith to get you the deal we all deserve. We will continue to update you as things progress.

Respectfully,

The Negotiating Committee Members of the WGA West and WGA East

Chip Johannessen, Co-Chair
Chris Keyser, Co-Chair
Billy Ray, Co-Chair

Alfredo Barrios, Jr.
Adam Brooks
Zoanne Clack
Marjorie David
Kate Erickson
Jonathan Fernandez
Travon Free
Howard Michael Gould
Susannah Grant
Erich Hoeber
Richard Keith
Warren Leight
Alison McDonald
Luvh Rakhe
Shawn Ryan
Stephen Schiff
David Shore
Meredith Stiehm
Patric M. Verrone
Eric Wallace
Beau Willimon
Nicole Yorkin

Howard A. Rodman, WGAW President, ex-officio
Michael Winship, WGAE President, ex-officio
David A. Goodman, WGAW Vice President, ex-officio
Jeremy Pikser, WGAE Vice President, ex-officio
Aaron Mendelsohn, WGAW Secretary-Treasurer, ex-officio
Bob Schneider, WGAE Secretary-Treasurer, ex-officio

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  1. Mona martinez says:

    Please dont strike i keep telling you bring the walkingvdead season8 back i need a job come up with an agreement soonand get payed ok

  2. Anonymous says:

    Coming from someone working in development at one of the studios (just not high enough yet, position-wise, to actually enforce the changes I’d like to see made!), as a I posted a day or two ago on Deadline…

    “Paying you dues” should never equivalate to serfdom/exploitation. And I think that if you hire someone for their services (whether it be a writer/assistant/studio exec/etc.), you should pay them fairly. That’s just basic ethics 101. And I realize most people working at in corporate alongside me are good & sweet people who’ve just been going along with things the way they are since they started out as assistants/mailroom-people, but when a few people working in Hollywood are making millions a month while others are barely making enough to survive then what’s going on is clearly not fair or right! And everybody needs to just wake up and stop just going “that’s just the way things are” and realize that things are only the way all of us choose them to be.

    (I just honestly sometimes can’t believe that in this day and age we are still are discussing things like this… Especially while over in Germany it’s legally required that workers are properly represented on every company board… Ridiculous…)

    That said….

    I saw this comment (pasted below) on another article. And, to the writers out there, what the WGA is doing to you guys is way more exploitative than anything else. I mean, this is really beyond ridiculous:

    ************************************************************************************************************

    “Here’s what a million dollar WGA deal looks like.

    $1,000,000
    -$100,000 agent
    -$100,000 manager
    -$50,000 lawyer
    -$473,859 taxes
    -$15,000 WGA

    Leaves $261,141, except we all know no one ever gets that amount as a lump. Payment is be stretched out over multiple steps, and often multiple years, so let’s call that $130,570 a year. Say you have a writing partner, that then becomes $65,285.25 a year.

    $65,285 from a MILLION dollars.

    So let’s keep going. You’re a hot shot writer and you and your writing partner live in LA.

    $65,285
    -$48,000 @ $4k * 12 months small home rent
    -$4,800 modest car payment/insurance
    -$3,000 modest bills/utilities
    -$9,000 groceries @ $750/mo
    -$2,400 modest gas budget

    Equals -$1,915 at the end of the year of spending NOTHING on anything other than the most basic of necessities. The only way to stay in the green in this example is to live in a single bedroom apartment and never spend a single dollar on anything other than the most basic of needs.

    The writer and their partner need to make a MILLION DOLLARS PER YEAR TO AFFORD A SINGLE BEDROOM APARTMENT IN LA.

    How insane is this? Why does no one talk about this? It boggles the mind and it’s the secret no one seems to be willing to speak up about. A million dollar movie deal leaves you and a partner FLAT BROKE in LA.”

    ************************************************************************************************************

  3. Franky says:

    This is about a basic living wage and healthcare for employees and their families whose work creates literally billions in profits for multinational corporations. The work creates jobs and industry and economy up and down the line. The way we treat our writers is disgraceful. The studios need to start acknowledging the contributions of the architects of their content in a meaningful way. All American workers should stand with the writers guild, they are fighting for the same fairness you are

  4. Lisa says:

    Their requests are not outrageous. I would walk away too if a company decided to roll back my benefits AS they’re making record profits off my work. Fuck that.

  5. Alex says:

    If they go on strike then who will write all those unfunny lame ass jokes for SNL, the late night dimwits and the mock news shows?! WHO I ASK?! WHO?!

    • Lisa says:

      Here’s a crazy idea, if you dislike a show, don’t watch it. Just a thought to help ease your pain.

      • bart4u says:

        SNL is having the best year ever. I enjoyed watching it this season. Their ratings have have risen due to our political turmoil.

      • Alex says:

        Not a crazy idea, I ignore ALOT of shows. If you look at the ratings of most network shows I’m not the only one.

  6. Ray says:

    Great now all of us in the craft unions will be screwed by these jerks again. The last time people lost homes, marriages, and savings. All the while these ass$%^&# got paid money from residuals because the networks go into reruns for programming. Time for a speed rail party in the parking lot

    • Alex says:

      The jerks whose work is the only reason you have a job to go to?

      • Ray says:

        Wrong Alex, there is lots of work outside scripted production. These greedy writers need to be part of the community that helps EVERYBODY in production. Lets face it, most of what is written today is just ripping off scripts of past shows. I have a great idea..lets remake Mary Poppins or Charlie’s Angels or just about anything else. Why?? Because they are bad hacks that have NO TALENT.

  7. Frank says:

    After participating in strikes, I have never recouped what I lost. The people egging this on are union honchos, hangers on who are barely in the union and those who are sitting pretty financially.

    As w/ most things, those in the middle of the pack will get screwed.

  8. heyitsron says:

    Two weeks negotiation? Strike authorization? If you watch TV you think they’ve been on strike. You mean they’re getting paid for this? I’m wearing out my remote flipping channels. Let them strike, fire them, then bring in the real deal.

    • The Truth says:

      Maybe you’d be able to appreciate well-written programming on television if you got your head out of your ass.

    • Skoonix says:

      You just must make bad choices. This is an amazing time for television – there is so much good, well written, well acted programs on now – Peaky Blinders, The Americans, The Crown, This Is Us, People of Earth, VEEP, Ray Donovan, Big Little Lies, House of Cards, Broadchurch, Crashing, Fargo, Patriot, Goliath, Humans, etc.

      • vp19 says:

        To Christian, regarding TV’s “wasteland”: You obviously don’t watch “Mom.” (Or are multi-cam, live-audience sitcoms beneath you?)

      • Christain Jordan says:

        Peak Blinders, The Crown, Broadchurch, Humans are all from production companies outside the USA mostly BBC and Channel 4. WGA has nothing to do with these shows. A Large number of the biggest hits of the last few years are remakes of shows from other nations. American TV as a whole has turned further into a wasteland of “reality” and crap.

  9. Kevin Cannon says:

    Gotta love the WGA !!I only wish SAG leadership protects its actor members by standing firm in its negotiations coming up !!But that’s a Fantasy ! Given’ SAG-AFTRA’s ineffective and destructive leadership to post merger date !!!!

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