Peace has broken out between the WGA West and WGA East, with the two unions agreeing to settle their bitter battle over money and jurisdiction.
In a joint communication sent Monday to the 13,000 WGA members, new presidents Chris Albers and Patric Verrone announced they’ve resolved the long-running dispute following a recent confab in San Francisco.
“During the talks, we were reminded of all the common goals shared by writers,” Albers and Verrone wrote. “It was soon clear that our shared objectives outnumbered our differences.”
Key points of the deal call for expedited arbitration on disagreements and for the East to provide annual payments to the West to cover work it provides to members. The first payment is estimated at nearly $500,000.
Both leaders had promised during their campaigns to seek a way to end the fight, which had escalated last spring with the Eastern branch suing the WGA West for refusing to engage in mediation, triggering a countersuit by WGAW to force arbitration.
“You asked us to work together to focus on improving conditions for writers and we heard you,” the duo wrote. “The settlement leaves both of our unions strong and healthy. Finally we can show management what two such unions can do when they join together and fight with one voice.”
The missive made no mention of possibly merging the two unions, and sources have indicated such a step is probably a long way off. The WGA West, based in Hollywood, has 9,000 members and an annual budget of $20 million; the WGA East, based in New York, has 4,000 members and a $6 million budget.
The dispute emerged in February when the WGA West demanded that screenwriters hold dual membership in both guilds and that half their dues be sent west, based on provisions in the guilds’ 1954 constitution and the affiliation agreement that set up the two branches. The West also claimed the Eastern branch owed more than $500,000 per year in dues and owed another $500,000 annually for services the WGAW provides to WGA East members.
For its part, the WGA East accused its Western sibling of union-busting, strongly disputed the financial numbers, and noted that the constitutional provisions hadn’t been enforced in three decades.
Key points of the settlement, which will have to be approved via a special vote:
- Both unions will work together to develop a national organizing strategy to gain jurisdiction over non-union work and carry out those efforts as a team.
- Costs will be shared on grievances and arbitrations involving members of both unions.
- The unions will share all information on credits, waiver requests, residuals, contracts, grievances and arbitrations that jointly affect both unions.
- The West’s board and the East’s council will hold joint meetings twice a year (as they are already required to do), as will the national council, made up of members from both unions.
- No joint committees will have less than one-third representation by either union.
- New joint committees will be set up for daytime writers and news writers.
- All negotiating committees will have proportional representation to reflect the percentage of each union’s members who are eligible to vote on the contract.
- The Guilds will develop common voting standards for joint issues.
- Members living west of the Mississippi River will be in the WGA West and those east of the Mississippi will be in the East.
- Writers living in the United Kingdom, Ireland and eastern Canada (east of Manitoba) will be members of WGA East; all writers living in Western Canada and the rest of the world will be members of WGAW
- The Guilds agreed to launch a joint directory online, with each member determining the specific information provided.