WGA panels endorse deal

Member approval last step

The ruling boards of the Writers Guild of America gave their unanimous blessing Tuesday to last week’s tentative three-year deal with producers — the final step needed before members can ratify the pact.

The approval took place through a videoconference, with the WGA West board of directors meeting in Hollywood and the WGA East Council meeting in Gotham. The guild’s 11,000 members will be mailed ballots within a week for return by June 4.

Members also can vote at June 4 ratification meetings in Gotham and at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. The final tally, expected to be heavily in favor of the new deal, will be released the next day with East and West votes combined.

Going down easy

The generally positive support for the pact, which calls for $41 million in pay hikes over three years, contrasts sharply with an internal battle four years ago when WGA West members approved the deal while East members opposed it, leading to its defeat by a narrow margin. The guilds were forced to return to negotiations in 1998 to work out another deal, which was approved by the members.

Some dissatisfaction has emerged this week over the negotiating committee’s strategy of not seeking strike authorization. But the WGA leaders were facing unease within the ranks about the prospect of a strike and pressure from outsiders to settle after a year of campaigning by the guild over the need for correcting what it saw as long-ignored problems with the contract.

“We took a militant approach this time,” said WGA West secretary-treasurer Michael Mahern at a breakfast celebration hosted by Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. “We reached agreement because the companies were willing to meet the unique needs of the writers.”

Nick Counter, prexy of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, praised Riordan for reminding negotiators of the impact of a work stoppage. Riordan had launched an anti-strike PR effort last month to stress the potential economic damage.

“Every once in a while, you have to stand back and look at the big picture and find solutions rather than problems,” Counter said.

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