Ratcheting up the tension on the labor front, the Writers Guild of America is asking its members for strike authorization.
In a Monday message to its 13,000 members, guild leaders said they’ve been forced into asking for approval of a work stoppage because studios and networks are acting unprofessionally at the bargaining table.
“Since talks began on July 16, the companies have refused to engage in serious negotiations,” the WGA said. “Instead, they have rejected each of our proposals and responded with a ‘comprehensive’ proposal of their own: 32 pages of draconian rollbacks that would eviscerate virtually every gain that writers have made in the past 50 years.”
The move portends that negotiations — set to resume Thursday — will continue to follow a rocky course in the face of an Oct. 31 contract expiration as each side seeks to gain leverage through an exceptionally hostile public relations battle.
Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, shot back Monday, accusing the WGA of not taking the negotiations seriously and lying to its members.
“A strike authorization vote is a routine procedure that unions frequently take in the course of negotiations,” he said. “The Writers Guild’s strike authorization is notable only because its negotiators seem intent on striking without seriously addressing the AMPTP’s proposals, and with no regard for the devastating impact on their members, fellow unions and this industry. WGA’s leadership is pursuing this reckless strategy by misleading the membership about our proposals.”
Counter also said the companies have no choice but to push for a revamp of residuals due to the massive shifts in revenue streams in showbiz.
“We refuse to go the way of industries that deny change or have failed to adapt fast enough,” he added. “We are determined to turn the extraordinary challenges and transformative changes confronting us into beneficial opportunities for all.”
The WGA leaders agreed with Counter on one point — that the authorization vote doesn’t necessarily lead to a strike, noting that unions regularly take such a step. The ballots are due back Oct. 18; talks are scheduled to resume Thursday.
The WGA took several other shots at the AMPTP Monday over its proposal, which calls for a revolutionary revamp of the residual structure. Asserting that the current system — created in the 1960s and 1970s — is out of whack with the bottom-line realities of the business, the companies are proposing that talent receive payments only after basic costs are recouped.
“Are the companies serious about this proposal?” the WGA said. “They can’t be. They know that it is unacceptable to every writer, director and actor in Hollywood. But they have left the rollbacks on the table and refuse to address the significant issues that must be resolved in these negotiations. This may be a stall tactic, or it may reflect the companies’ belief that they can get a better deal from another union. Whatever the reasons, it is apparent that the companies do not yet feel the pressure to conduct serious negotiations. That is why the negotiating committee and elected leadership have taken the serious step of asking you to authorize a strike.”
The message was signed by WGA West president Patric Verrone, WGA East president Michael Winship, all the members of the negotiating committee and all the members of the respective ruling bodies — the WGA West board of directors and the WGA East council.
For its part, the guild is seeking increased jurisdiction over work performed for the Internet and other new-media platforms, along with guaranteed jurisdiction over reality programs, animation and gameshows. It’s also seeking clearer definitions and payment for reuse of work on new-media platforms.
Many observers believe the WGA won’t reach a deal by the Oct. 31 expiration but won’t strike — opting instead to allow members to continue working under terms of the expired contract in hopes that SAG and DGA can achieve a better deal. Contracts for the DGA and SAG expire June 30, with the DGA expected to be first to the bargaining table.
The WGA admitted in Monday’s message that such a scenario is possible but warned that it won’t sign an unacceptable deal in any case.
“What we cannot do is make a weak deal that we will regret for the next 20 years,” the guild said. “It is vital to ensure that writers keep up with the great success of this industry, a success of which we are primary creators.”