WGA boards to vote on pact

Scribes to join SAG, AFTRA in TV economic study

The Writers Guild of America’s western governing board plans to meet on Wednesday in Los Angeles to consider approving the contract agreement reached with producers last week.

The board is expected to vote in favor of the three-year pact, which finally passed muster with negotiating teams late on April 30 after a second go-round of talks prompted by the membership’s failure to ratify the contract last fall. The guild’s eastern board will consider the pact on Thursday.

If both boards give the OK, the document will be sent next month to about 11,000 members for ratification.

Although the contract includes some improvements in the arena of residuals, WGA representatives and producers agreed to conduct further negotiations with producers on the subject, which was a major stumbling block in the talks just completed.

The writers’ guild also will join the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in a wide-ranging study of aftermarket TV economics, particularly the question of foreign-market and basic cable residuals.

In the next month or so, representatives of producers, actors, writers and directors are set to begin figuring out the logistics of the proposed two-year study and the composition of an investigative committee.

With all the activity, the union’s hierarchy is not getting much rest in the wake of the protracted contract talks. Over the weekend, a member of the negotiating team denied the general assumption that, as the talks wound to a close last week, the most difficult issues had been all but ironed out.

“There was still some haggling over issues,” said the team member. “Nothing was resolved until the last minute.”

Writers’ reps got producers to sunset a provision agreed to in the first round of talks last year: Employers had wanted to decrease their contribution to the guild’s health plan from 6¼% to a flat 6%, with the difference going toward increasing minimums.

In the most recent talks, producers agreed that at the end of the new contract’s term “it has to be bargained all over again,” according to the team member, who asked not to be named. Pending any change, the money will be restored to the health fund three years from now.

“The worry that writers had was that Medicare costs would increase, or the stock market would fall,” the negotiating team member said, presenting scenarios that might make it harder for the guild and its members to pay health care costs.

The source said also that there was concern over the question of creative rights, and that the companies agreed to meet a writers special committee in early June to discuss issues such as a writer’s entitlement to participate in the rewriting of his or her work.

Management, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, consented to send a bulletin to producers to remind them to pay writers on time and warn that they are not permitted to insist that writers undertake free rewrites.

In addition, management agreed to extend for three years its payments to the Tri-Guild Growth Receipts Audit Fund, which keeps tracks of producers and companies that do not pay what they owe to members of the WGA, SAG and the Directors Guild of America.

“The other contract didn’t have that,” the negotiator said, referring to the previous, unratified agreement. “Overall the deal was a little more positive than last time.”