Members of the Writers Guild of America have ratified a new three-year master contract a day before the current deal expires.
The terms of the contract, which were ratified by 98.5% of the members, stretch from May 2 through May 1, 2017. A total of 1,193 votes were cast from 8,218 eligible voters — about 15% participation.
“Each negotiating cycle is marked by the hard work of the negotiating committee, member volunteers, and guild staff,” said WGA West president Chris Keyser (pictured above) and WGA East president Michael Winship. “Our thanks go out to all of those who contributed to the process and to the members who participated in the ratification vote We continue to build on the battles won by our predecessors and fight for the rights of generations to come.”
Leaders of the WGA reached a tentative deal on April 2 with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers following two days of talks over the options and exclusivity requirements for TV writers. The other issues had been settled as of the first week of March.
The negotiating committee was co-chaired by Billy Ray (“Captain Phillips”) and Chip Johannessen (“Homeland”).
The new deal revises the provisions a company may negotiate with an episodic television writer who earns less than $200,000 per contract year: the agreement may not require the writer be exclusive except when the writer is being paid for writing services; and the company may not hold a writer for more than 90 days under an option without paying a holding fee of at least one-third of the minimum.
The new deal also includes a 3% annual wage increase; 5% annual increases in script minimums for hour-long dramatic basic cable rates; a 0.5% increase in the contribution to the pension fund; higher payments for ad-supported online streaming; and a reduced free streaming window from 17 days to seven days for the first seven episodes of a series.
The question of TV options and exclusivity has become a key issue for WGA members, according to a recent message to members from Keyser, Ray and Johannessen, with series orders for as few as eight episodes becoming the norm.
The new WGA pact mirrors some of the gains in the Directors Guild of America’s deal, reached last November, which included an annual 3% wage increase and the establishment, for the first time, of minimum terms and conditions for high-budget new media made for subscription video-on-demand such as Netflix.
The low-key negotiations contrasted sharply with the bitter 100-day WGA strike in 2007-08. WGA leaders have asserted that the resulting contract achieved the key goal of providing for coverage of work in new media and compensation for re-use on new-media platforms.
SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP will begin talks on May 5 on the performers’ master contracts — which are still separate SAG and AFTRA contracts, two years after the unions merged. The current pacts expire June 30.
“We congratulate the Writers Guild of America, West and the Writers Guild of America East on the ratification of the new Minimum Basic Agreement,” the AMPTP said in a statement. “We were able to achieve this agreement only because the parties were willing to work together to explore solutions to some difficult issues. We hope to build on that collaborative foundation by encouraging a continuing dialogue with the WGA during the term of the upcoming contract.”