The gloves have come off in the contest for the presidency of the Writers Guild of America West, pitting former president John Wells against current treasurer Elias Davis.
Current president Patric Verrone and former negotiating committee chair John Bowman have issued a stinging rebuke of Wells over last year’s contract negotiations, asserting he had served a counterproductive role in his efforts to push for a deal that would end the 2007-08 writers strike.
The duo, who are backing Davis, characterized Wells as being more interested in serving the interests of management than of WGA members.
Wells has denied the allegations in the email, sent to members Friday. And Wells’ version of the events surrounding the end of the WGA strike is at odds with the Verrone-Bowman missive.
Verrone and Bowman accused Wells — who was not part of the negotiating committee — of undermining that panel by not telling its members about his involvement in the Directors Guild of America negotiations. In the final days of the WGA strike, Wells had urged support for a WGA deal that mirrored terms of the recently concluded DGA deal.
“As it worked out, after John publicly supported the DGA deal, without also publicly stating his own involvement, our hands as negotiators were tied,” Verrone and Bowman wrote. “We’d been on strike for three months and people wanted to go back to work. We understood this. What we did not understand, and still don’t, is why one of our own would negotiate with the DGA without informing his guild’s president or the chair of its negotiating committee.”
Verrone, who’s prevented by term limits from seeking a third term as president, is running for the board as part of the slate headed by Davis. Verrone and his allies have dominated WGA West politics since 2005 with a strategy of taking an aggressive posture on organizing and bargaining.
Wells, who served as WGA West president in 1999-2001 and was a key player in averting a strike in 2001, is heading a slate that presents itself as pragmatic. Ballots went out this week to decide three officer and eight board slots; results will be announced Sept. 18.
Wells has already detailed in his campaign statements — which went online a month ago — his efforts to end the 100-day strike. He asserted that because of his long relationships on both sides, he was “encouraged” by members of the strike leadership to engage in some back-channel diplomacy.
“In that role, I did my best to suggest that the DGA use the leverage of our strike to negotiate more aggressively than many of us expected they would,” Wells added in his platform statement. “It is not unusual during a strike for many emissaries to be sent out to all sorts of parties to work back channels. I don’t believe for a moment that I was the only person being asked to do so, nor was it the first time I had been asked to do so during the 2007 negotiations.”
Wells also said that his eventual public support for the DGA deal came because he had given his word that he would publicly support it if certain percentages in the deal were reached by the DGA.
“Not only were they reached, but they exceeded what many of us had thought could be likely accomplished,” he added. “I’d given my word that I would support it publicly, so I did.”
But in the email, Verrone and Bowman characterized Wells as a rogue agent.
“This is what you get with John Wells,” they said. “He does his own thing. He doesn’t depend upon the will of our guild’s membership but upon the strength of his relationships with management.”
Asked why Wells hadn’t been disciplined for alleged misconduct that took place 18 months ago, Verrone insisted that he’d been kept in the dark until recently. “I can’t comment about member discipline but, frankly, we’re only just learning from John Wells about a lot of the things he did during the strike, and the details keep changing,” he told Daily Variety.
Wells sent out an email Monday that blasted Verrone and Bowman, saying their missive was a “deliberate and not particularly clever attempt to mischaracterize what I was doing to try and help our cause during the strike.”
Wells said the claim that he was negotiating with the DGA was “patently ridiculous.” Instead, he asserted, he was trying to find out whatever he could about the details of the DGA deal they were planning to negotiate since those would become the basis of the WGA deal and passing on what he could find out to Bowman and several other members of the negotiating committee.
Wells said that while the negotiating committee waited on the sidelines throughout the DGA talks with the AMPTP, Bowman told several of its members that Wells was speaking regularly to the DGA. irectors. He also said that when the WGA deal was concluded, Bowman sent him an email that said simply, “Good work on the DGA deal.”
“Patric Verrone and John Bowman are speaking falsely to you, intentionally mischaracterizing what I have said and besmirching my name in order to win an election for their colleague Elias Davis,” Wells said.