The combatants in the 100-day strike that shut down Hollywood three years ago met for their first rematch on Thursday. But you’d hardly know it.
Negotiations began Thursday morning between the Writers Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers with no fanfare and an apparent news blackout at AMPTP headquarters in Sherman Oaks.
AMPTP president Carol Lombardini arrived mid-morning and simply said, “We’re hoping for the best.” Both sides refused to comment further on the talks. The WGA’s existing masting contract for film and TV expires May 1.
Thursday’s scenario offered a sharp contrast with the jousting the sides engaged in during dueling news conferences in July 2007 when the AMPTP unveiled its bid to overhaul its long-standing residuals system to shift to a recoupment-based formula. At that time, the late AMPTP prexy Nick Counter derided the WGA’s list of contract demands as non-starters, calling it “an assault on the entire industry.”
With both sides blasting each other publicly, negotiations cratered in early November 2007, leading to the strike that concluded on Feb. 12, 2008.
Lombardini, Counter’s successor, has opted for a lower-key style with a minimum of public comment. WGA West prexy John Wells and WGA East topper Michael Winship have made comments about the need for improving pension and health contributions. But WGA West exec director David Young — architect of the strike and a lightning rod for criticism by the companies — has stayed silent.
“I think it’s good that they’re not bashing each other,” noted Alan Brunswick, a labor attorney with Los Angeles-based Manatt Phelps Phillips. “They’re not locking themselves into positions that they can’t retreat from. Both sides remember how bad it was four years ago.”
The WGA spelled out its key 22 issues at the upcoming contract negotiations — including increased minimums, higher contributions for pension and health, increased residuals for basic cable and new media, boosting pay rates at the CW to match those at other networks, increasing homevideo residuals and expanding WGA jurisdiction to motion capture, animation and videogames. Hikes in homevid residuals and other points are sure to be non-starters with the AMPTP.
As usual, the WGA’s opted to negotiate up against a deadline, less than two months before the current deal expires. By contrast, SAG, AFTRA and the DGA ratified deals on successor contracts two months ago, even with a June 30 expiration on their previous pacts.
Labor insiders believe that another strike isn’t nearly as likely as it was in 2007, when the WGA galvanized its members for a work stoppage in the name of obtaining a fair share of revenues from digital media platforms.
Expectations have been hammered by the still-shaky economy. The DGA, SAG, AFTRA and the Teamsters have all agreed within the past nine months to contracts with 2% salary increases — even though 3% gains were the norm as little as two years ago.
The WGA’s already signaled that it is looking for a hike in employers’ contributions to pension and health, noting in October that the plans are the “cornerstone” of the master contract and that the employers’ current 6% pension contribution hasn’t been changed since 1982. The guild’s also asked for companies to address long-standing complaints about working for free via such devices as “prewrites,” sweepstakes pitching and one-step deals.