WGA, AMPTP Contract Talks Inch Forward on Options and Exclusivity

WGA Placeholder Contract Negotiations writers Strike
Variety

After two days back at the bargaining table, there is cautious optimism that the WGA and major studios could be inching closer to compromise on at least one key issue on the table: options and exclusivity terms for TV writers.

Sources said the discussion of the concerns about the employment terms for writers working on short-order series occupied a significant portion of the discussion on Monday, which marked the resumption of talks after a two-week break. The WGA and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are facing a May 1 contract expiration deadline. The WGA has vowed to strike on May 2 if a deal isn’t reached.

Industry sources also reported that there were some back-channel conversations late last week between some members of the WGA negotiating committee and emissaries for the studios, in an effort to talk through issues in a less pressurized setting than the AMPTP conference room in Sherman Oaks. Sources say there is growing awareness by some key players in the AMPTP camp of the need for compromise to avert a strike and the disruption that would ensue.

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WGA Placeholder Contract Negotiations

Strike Fears Grow as WGA, Studios Resume Contract Talks

The big problem with the compensation structure for low- and mid-level writers working on short-order shows running anywhere from 6 to 13 episodes is that they can wind up working more weeks for less money than they would earn on a traditional 22-episode order. At present, WGA scale for writers paid per episode is designed to cover two weeks’ worth of work.

But most writers above the executive story editor level earn higher than scale episodic fees that are negotiated through their talent reps. With series production timetables that frequently run longer than two weeks per episode, fees are stretched out to ensure that a writer is at least earning scale in accordance with the guild contract. That has the effect of lowering an experienced writer’s effective rate when it comes time to negotiate his or her next deal.

The WGA proposal calls for studios to pay writers the weekly equivalent of their negotiated episodic fee for each week that the writer is engaged beyond the standard two weeks per episode. The extended working terms has become a concern as more producers and showrunners seek longer periods of writing prep time before lensing begins. The proposal also seeks to set specific 12-month parameters around what constitutes a TV season, or the “span” in WGA parlance.

The process of gaining consensus on the options/exclusivity/span issues could be complicated by differing perspectives by the major AMPTP members. Because those issues affect series production for cable and streaming services more than broadcast TV, CBS and Warner Bros. are said to be pushing harder for compromise than cable-heavy NBCUniversal, Fox and Disney.

The WGA and AMPTP declined comment, citing their agreement to adhere to a news blackout while negotiations are ongoing. Industry sources are hoping that the sides will agree to extend negotiations into next week. At present the sides are scheduled to meet through Friday.

Beyond the TV compensation terms, the big headache for both sides is the WGA’s health care plan. Simply put, the plan is running out of money and health care costs are going nowhere but up. The guild is asking for changes in the employer contribution formulas that would help give the plan an influx of capital to ease projected deficits of $13.2 million this year, $25.6 million in 2018 and $65.8 million by 2020.

The atmosphere surrounding the talks became charged in the past two weeks as the WGA has initiated a strike authorization vote among members, and stepped up communications to make the case for the deal points it is pushing.

After the first round of talks ended on March 23, execs connected to AMPTP member companies complained that the guild was disorganized in its approach and did not come in with a prioritized agenda. The guild’s repeated reference in its materials to members and outsiders to the $51 billion in operating profits by the six largest conglomerates has infuriated the studio side as that number includes contributions from non-core Hollywood businesses such as Comcast’s cable systems and Disney’s theme park businesses. By the WGA’s math, 66% of that $51 billion, or about $33.7 billion, is directly derived from scripted film and TV production that all starts with the labor of WGA members.

The WGA, meanwhile, maintains that the AMPTP has so far been intransigent on key issues even as the guild has withdrawn some of its initial proposals. The guild has moved into strike footing, firing up the communications networks and infrastructure that coordinated an impressive turnout of pickets and protests during the last strike in late 2007-early 2008. The sentiment of solidarity among the most influential members — high-level showrunners and screenwriters — is growing.

“I do not want a strike,” said a seasoned comedy writer with a returning series set to begin production on a new season in June. “But I’ll be out there if we do.”

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  1. Samuel Goldwyn Mayer says:

    I typically side with strikers but wow–ridiculous. Basically most of us (in business, in healthcare, in education, in civil service) even in unions pay a few thousand dollars (individually) for health care and these writers pay $0 (single) or $600 (family) a year now and are refusing to pay ANY premium increase? Really? Um… So writers in your guild should be treated better than police officers, teachers, doctors, construction workers, and anyone who WATCHES your product because… Because… You’re above us all? And yet you wanted to pretend to support Bernie or Hillary who would tell you the healthcare system can’t work if you really demand to keep a premium that low… So unless you really want to all admit Hollywood writers you are all Trump fans, do the right thing and pay health premiums like the rest of the country. After all, the health care system your party championed demands it.

  2. Karen Lauren says:

    Nobody wants a strike. Hopefully everything can be worked out. The strike will effect so many people. It’s really not just about writers at this point. It starts on the page, true, but it ends with the hard work of so many other depts. Art, production, locations, accounting, grip, electric, camera, transpo, and so on and so. They get 3% raises and don’t see their kids during the week because theyre making what’s on the page REAL! I support the union. But there are plenty of people in this industry who don’t get a quarter of what writers get and this will hurt them more. Peace and blessings.

  3. Michael says:

    #YESTOSTRIKE In an already uncertain industry, our families can’t continue to see writers’ wages decline as shorter seasons become the norm and healthcare woes become insurmountable. The strike isn’t a way for the WGA to score some boon. It’s to make sure we don’t keep getting slowly screwed. Period. I am a WORKING writer who doesn’t want to temporarily lose income from a strike — but I am willing to strike in order to get a fair deal that will help my family for potentially decades. I mean, these aren’t big asks here. Family-leave, loosening the shackles of exclusivity, a nominal contribution for healthcare? Come on.

    A few trolls on the comments here trying to create this impression that writers don’t have the mettle to strike. Well, let me tell you — out in the world, at parties and bars and meetings in writers’ rooms, the preparedness to strike among writers is kind of insane. Yes, I’m admittedly in a bit of a bubble, but I don’t know anyone voting “no.” Given that we’re asking for the tiniest sliver of a record-sized piece of the pie, why would anyone want to settle for the horrible deal being proposed? The AMPTP isn’t even making this a close call this time around.

    • Production Guy says:

      When the median salary is still around 6 figures, so let’s not pretend you’re on food stamps. And the guild, excluding last year, has taken in record earnings from residuals, and in the last 5 years the amount of tv writers earning a paycheck has gone up %25. Maybe account for all these new lower level writers creating content for many of these new not yet profitable networks/SVODs not contributing much to the health care fund but still drawing whatever they want from it. Tiered system addresses that. *the facts for this general statement were pulled from the earning reports released by the guild itself the last 5 years, reports that paint a different picture than the current narrative of being Hollywood’s whipping boy.

      Also stop using gross profits as a barometer of success, it just shows you don’t understand economics(though the majority of the nation doesn’t, so I suppose might as well tell half truths to win the court of public opinion) as operating profits and the profit margin are the real measuring sticks. And those have gone up 5% over the last 6 years for the AMPTP conglomerates.

      The writers deserve most of what they’re asking for, but your blatantly dishonest

    • Samuel Goldwyn Mayer says:

      #NOTOSTRIKE

      Hey Michael, get over yourself.

  4. tinfoilhatprods says:

    They still have close to three weeks. Let us all hope they get this hammered out. Nobody wants a strike.

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