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WGA West lifts Comedy Central ban; sets stage for ’14 talks

Pact set with Central Prods. as leaders turn focus to master contract

The Writers Guild of America West has reached a deal with the production arm of Comedy Central, two months after the guild ordered members to stop working on a number of the cabler’s shows. WGA West leaders used the news of the pact with Central Prods. to urge members to help in preparations for negotiations on a new master contract.

“As we come together in anticipation of the contract expiration, our hope would be that every member of our guild has ample opportunity to join with his/her brothers and sisters to voice, and share, our individual concerns and common goals,” the guild said in a message to members from president Chris Keyser, VP Howard Rodman and secretary-treasurer Carl Gottlieb.

“We’ve learned again and again that an engaged membership is essential for union democracy. But it’s also a considerable source of leverage. By standing together — as the Central Productions writers have shown — we can stand against attempts to erode our jurisdiction. And we can win.”

The deal with Comedy Central achieves all of the WGA’s principle goals, the message said. The guild had told members to stop working on Central Prods. shows if there was no WGA contract in place. (The order did not affect “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” or “The Colbert Report.”)

“These include the adoption of our industry-standard residual formula, and protection against Central Productions’ past practice of hiring writers without a Guild deal in place,” the message said. “This means hundreds of thousands of additional dollars in writers’ pockets over the term of the agreement, and, crucially, the end of frantic show-by-show negotiations for dramatic, comedy-variety, non-dramatic and quiz & audience shows produced for Comedy Central.”

The trio thanked the staff of the guild, the WGA West board and members who refused to work on Central Prods. projects after the stop-work order was issued on Nov. 26.

“Most of all, every writer in this Guild owes a deep and abiding debt of gratitude to those relatively few writers at work on uncovered projects at the time we issued our advisory, on whose shoulders fell the brunt and burden of this negotiation,” the leaders said. “Though we all lent our support, it was they who bore the risk.”

Comedy Central was not immediately available for comment. The WGA noted that it organized the first Comedy Central shows in 2007.

The WGA also announced it had signed agreements on Jan. 11 with Prospect Park that covers writers on the made-for-Internet continuation of ABC’s daytime dramas “One Life to Live” and “All My Children.”

“Even as viewing habits and viewing platforms change, the Guild will continue to look out for those daytime writers whose contributions to these very-long-form narratives changed the face of American culture,” the message said. “Now that they are ‘migrating’ to the Internet, we needed to insure that Guild standards for writers migrated with them.”

Keyser, Rodman and Gottlieb noted that the WGA struck for more than three months in 2007-08 over such issues.

“We struck for 100 days to ensure this principle, and we’re not about to abandon it — even when, perhaps especially when, some employers would find it easier and cheaper to work union-free,” the trio said. “As independent companies like Prospect Park step in to cover territory that used to be staked solely by the legacy media, we’ll be there. The increased competition, and increased availability of work, can only be to our benefit.”

The current WGA master contract expires in May 2014. Negotiations over a successor deal have not yet been set with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers — with the guild leaders warning members 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,” the missive said. “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.”

The leaders said that the WGA needs to remain focused on the future.

“If we merely play a defensive game, protecting Guild contracts with legacy media, we run the risk of becoming the last generation of writers able to make a living at it,” the message said. “To this end, one of our primary areas of focus is extending the reach of the MBA (minimum basic agreement), particularly in new media, nonfiction programming, video games, transmedia, and the like. As the work of writing moves to screens of all dimensions, as our employers become both larger and more multifarious, it is vital that guild coverage expands.”

WGA stats released last year showed sharp declines in screenwriting work, which Keyser, Rodman and Gottlieb underlined in the missive.

“A confluence of one-draft deals, diminished development budgets, and the near-flatlining of studio-financed drama, has weighed on all of us who seek to make a career in the business of features,” they added. “The guild’s committee for the professional status of writers has been meeting with heads of studios, and with their creative staffs, to discuss such matters as sweepstakes pitching, free pre-writes, free re-writes, late pay – the issues identified by you in last year’s Screenwriters’ Survey. The conversations are frank and cordial, as we maintain that eliminating these abuses isn’t just good for writers – it’s good for cinema.”

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