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WGA activists splinter

Faults org for passive tactics, poor coordination

In a rebuke to the WGA’s negotiating strategy of “patience and discipline,” 14 members of the guild’s negotiating committee have announced formation of a new group to press for a more assertive approach.

“What is needed now is a decisive collective effort to change the culture and governance of the guilds,” said WGA Writers United in an announcement Wednesday. “Our purpose is to develop an informed activist membership that identifies itself, both East and West, as unified in its commitment to basic collective bargaining principles.”

The group includes John Auerbach, Adam Brooks, Terry Curtis Fox, Warren Leight, Robert King, Joan Meyerson, David Rintels, Phil Alden Robinson, Howard Rodman, James Schamus, Stephen Schiff, Tom Schulman, WGA West secretary-treasurer Patric Verrone and David Weiss. Robinson and Schulman both quit the negotiating committee in protest before it reached the deal last month.

WGA members recently received the group’s missive via a Guild informational mailing about ratification.

The WGA is set to announce results next week from voting among its 12,000 members over ratifying the Oct. 13 deal, which includes a $37 million gain in health plan contributions but no gains on DVD residuals or reality TV jurisdiction. Proponents claimed the deal, which amounts to a $58 million hike over three years, is the best the guild could have gotten even with a strike.

But the new group asserted the WGA wasn’t aggressive enough and didn’t make enough of an effort to coordinate its strategy with the DGA, SAG and AFTRA. The two performers unions are expected to begin negotiations on a film-TV pact next month.

“We were ignored, put off and sometimes flat-out overruled in favor of a strategy of ‘patience and discipline,’ ” the group said. “After a summer of frustrating inactivity, the companies turned to the DGA and we were then presented by our leadership with a two-day window of opportunity to conclude a deal (held under a news blackout and described to our membership as ‘exploratory talks’).”

The WGA walked away from the table in June when the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers offered a $32 million package, telling its members they needed to wait for the DGA and SAG to negotiate. The Directors Guild of America, which ratified a three-year deal last month, asserted after its negotiations in September that the AMPTP would not budge on the DVD issue without a lengthy strike and perhaps not at all.

“We all believe that writers deserve much more,” the group said. And it promised to push for development of a “member-directed” union with more accountability, less secrecy, better ties between the WGA East and WGA West and solidarity with other unions.

“With such a union, our power in the industry and at the bargaining table will be enormous,” the group said. “Without it, the half-dozen companies that run virtually all media will surely overwhelm us both collectively and individually.”

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