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WGA exec director signs 5-year extension

David Young has been in the post since 2006

Leaders of the Writers Guild of America West have given a five-year contract extension to exec director David Young, who organized the 2007-08 writers strike that rocked Hollywood for more than three months.

In a strong endorsement of Young’s seven-year tenure, the WGA West board voted unanimously to extend the exec’s contract. WGA West prexy Christopher Keyser noted that the extension locks in Young to head the 8,000-member guild for the next two rounds of successor negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which serves as the negotiating unit for the showbiz congloms and their production companies.

“David is a proven leader and an invaluable strategic thinker,” Keyser said in a statement. “He has helped guide us through challenging times of both technological change and economic turbulence in our industry. He has the full support of the board of directors, and we feel very fortunate that he will lead us through the next two cycles of contract talks with the AMPTP.”

The WGA’s current three-year contract expires on May 1, 2014. It has not yet set a negotiating date with the AMPTP, but its leaders warned members on Jan. 23 that they will need to be prepping for the next round of talks.

“Every move to extend the reach of our agreement requires risk on our part,” said the missive from Keyser, VP Howard Rodman and secretary-treasurer Carl Gottlieb. “But, as Frederick Douglass famously said, ‘If there is no struggle, there is no progress.’ That is worth remembering as we move through this year and towards the negotiations of 2014.”

Young joined the WGA in 2004 as its organizing director and replaced John McLean on an interim basis in 2005 after the board fired McLean over disappointment with the failure to achieve a change in the DVD residual formula. Firing McLean portended a hardened bargaining position as then-president Patric Verrone promised the WGA would take a more assertive approach in negotiations and organizing.

Young lost the interim tag in 2006 as the sniping escalated between guild leaders and then-AMPTP chief Nick Counter and bargaining went nowhere. With the guild having prepped its members extensively, the WGA negotiating committee received a strike authorization of over 90% in October 2007 and the 100-day strike began in November after negotiations cratered on a variety of divisive issues such as how writers would be compensated for new-media work and for reuse of their work in digital platforms.

Young was widely credited for running a well-organized strike featuring extensive picketing and rallies that benefited from strong support by the Screen Actors Guild and the Teamsters. The work stoppage forced a halt to most TV series in the middle of a season.

The strike ended after the WGA accepted in a deal in February 2008 with terms that were similar to those negotiated by the Directors Guild of America a few weeks earlier. Young subsequently issued a strong defense of the writers strike, noting that the membership had shown a high degree of unity during the strike.

“There is a concerted effort under way by the AMPTP and some in the press to minimize the success of our strike, calling it ‘unnecessary’ and ‘self-destructive,'” Young said in a 2009 WGA West member newsletter. “We didn’t achieve everything we wanted — we never do — but we achieved our most important objectives, something we hadn’t done for decades.”

For his part, McLean said in 2009 that the WGA contract was “a terrible deal” due to its shortcomings in new-media provisions such as the 17- and 24-day free streaming windows. McLean also contended that the WGA would have had more leverage had it waited for SAG’s contract to expire in mid-2008.

Since the strike, the WGA leadership has become more moderate, with John Wells elected in 2009 over a Verrone ally and Keyser in 2011 over Verrone. The negotiations with the AMPTP in early 2011 were remarkably low-key and resulted in gains in minimum pay and hikes in pension and health plan contributions.

The WGA West’s most recent LM-2 filing with the U.S. Dept. of Labor shows that Young received a salary of $462,605 in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2012.

During the strike, Young was criticized by producers as lacking in experience in the nuances of show business. Before Young joined the WGA West, he’d spent five years as assistant director of organization at the Laborers’ California Organizing Fund, signing up dozens of new construction industry employers to union agreements.

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