Inside Move: Writers’ bloc

Are last-minute talks a ploy ... or hubris?

Showbiz scribes will supply high drama over the next two weeks — not in scripts, but at the bargaining table.

If a deal isn’t reached by the May 2 expiration, Hollywood will have a huge headache on its hands, as the WGA could extend the contract to keep talks alive or seek a strike authorization. And though guild leaders have proclaimed they needed time to get ready and aren’t seeking a work stoppage, the scenario begs the question: Couldn’t this have been done earlier?

“They’re either disorganized or they’re doing it intentionally,” says Steven Currall, a Rice U. management professor who specializes in labor negotiations. “The last-minute strategy shows a high degree of confidence in negotiating ability or it shows that they’re itching for a fight.”

Within the world of Hollywood labor, the question of early vs. late is an ongoing debate.

DGA and IATSE contend early negotiations preclude production spikes and declines and allow a focus on key issues without the frenzy of last-minute talks.

“There’s no downside to going early — you can always come back if the other side isn’t serious,” says Leo Geffner, longtime counsel to IATSE.

Stockpiling hasn’t occurred this year, since there’s no threat of a SAG/AFTRA strike. The performers unions ditched the last-minute approach and agreed in March to extend their film-TV contract for a year to June 2005; they plan to start negotiations this fall on the next three-year deal.

The DGA, which also faces a June 2005 expiration, is likely to start negotiations before the end of the year. And IATSE — which has a July 2006 expiration — is already planning for negotiations in 2005.

The DGA was critical of SAG and the WGA in 2001, when both those unions reached deals three days after contracts expired as Hollywood sweated out the specter of possible strikes.

But the WGA’s not alone in going down to the wire.

The Basic Crafts unions, which have a July 31 expiration, won’t start talks until after the WGA completes its negotiations; AFTRA, which has a Nov. 15 expiration of its network code contract, hasn’t started its required meetings with members to work up guidelines.

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