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WGA officers rebut hotline

Last week’s start-up of a telephone hotline to circulate scorching information about the Writers Guild of America West and its executive director, Brian Walton, has drawn scorn from officers who sit on the union’s governing board.

“We deeply regret that members of the Guild have made and publicized untrue statements about the Guild, its board of directors and its executive director,” three officers said in a six-page rebuttal yesterday. They are president Del Reisman, VP Carl Gottlieb and secretary-treasurer Ann Marcus.

The answer came in response to the GROW (Grass Roots Objectives for Writers) hotline, which got under way last week (Daily Variety, Jan. 7) with a message from union heavyweight Larry Gelbart.

In the message, Gelbart said he and several other writers had started the hotline as an “information service by writers for writers.”

“In the weeks and months to come, various members will tape messages on a variety of important events. Many of them are shockers having to do with secret actions hidden from the membership and even from the board of directors,” Gelbart said on the message.

The board’s officers yesterday dismissed a number of allegations Gelbart had made, saying neither he “nor his associates sought to check the accuracy of these unfounded allegations with us or with the executive director….”

One of the touchiest subjects concerns Walton’s salary, which Gelbart had charged was increased by 400%, although it’s not clear whether he was referring to the past five years or to the new contract that Walton signed in 1991.

Gelbart said yesterday he was still studying the officers’ response and would have his own response at a later date. The officers said Walton’s 1991 contract calls for a 19% salary increase over five years, equaling 4.3% jumps each year. They say that’s less than the 4.5% increases in the minimum wage contract negotiated for writers.

Walton was hired in 1986 and was paid $ 66,031 for 5 1/2 months of work, the officers say. The following year he was paid $ 118,658.

In 1988, his salary increased 59% to $ 188,822 (these figures can fluctuate due to the amount of vacation pay Walton would cash out rather than use). His pay was $ 228,588 in 1989, and $ 226,128 in 1990. In 1991, he was to be paid $ 236,324, but the board renegotiated his contract a year early and his salary was upped to $ 280,000.

The officers said Walton made $ 338,769.38 in ’92; that includes 60 days of vacation time that was cashed out and ultimately is higher than his base pay will be in 1995.

They also deny Gelbart’s allegations Walton had refused to show new board members his contract. They say that “only one board member on only one occasion” asked to look at the pact. That member “has stated that the executive director refused. The executive director denies this.

“He states that he informed (that member) that he did not have a copy at 1 in the morning, and would refer the matter to the entire board,” the officers said.

A week prior to the next board meeting, Walton then requested board concurrence that he be free to show the contract to any board member upon request, with which the board concurred, they said.

In answer to Gelbart’s claims that Walton had negotiated deals in secret that the membership did not get to ratify, the officers said he was referring to foreign levies.

That agreement gives writers 7.5% of any monies coming in from Germany and France on American shows televised in those countries. (The DGA receives a similar amount, with producers and the studios taking 85%.)

Again, the officers called Gelbart’s statements untrue.

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