Writers Guild Election Campaign Signals Tough Contract Negotiations

The entertainment industry will face a tough set of negotiations from writers next year and in 2017, if candidate statements for the Writers Guild of America West are any indication.

Patric Verrone, best known for leading the acrimonious 100-day writers strike in 2007-08, said in his statement that the WGA needs to begin mobilizing the members now.

“Building negotiation leverage requires the board to dispel certain myths and misinformation held by writers about our lack of power, the ability of the industry to function without us and the idea that executives will punish us for aggressive conduct while others are rewarded for more collaborative behavior,” wrote Verrone, who’s seeking re-election on the guild’s board.

“We must always remember that writers are the initiators of the creative process, and we can use that position to achieve contract terms which will ultimately benefit all unions and guilds in this industry.”

Statements from five officer candidates and 17 board candidates, all for two-year terms, were posted Monday on the guild’s website, with campaign booklets and ballots arriving in the mail soon for the 8,000 WGA West members. Results will be announced Sept. 21.

Many candidates stressed that the guild must prep for negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers for a successor deal to the current master contract, which expires on May 1, 2017. Board member Billy Ray, who chaired last year’s negotiations, began his statement with the declaration “Writers matter,” noting that stories do not exist without them.

“And yet, we are under siege,” Ray wrote. “We’re being asked to do more for less. Our middle-class is being squeezed to the point of nonexistence. We’re subjected to things like pre-writes and paper-teaming and late pay. In 2014, weeks before what was supposed to be a non-confrontational negotiation, the AMPTP proposed a deal to us that included $60 million in cuts to our health plan. The subtext of this is always the same — writers don’t actually matter.”

Both presidential candidates, Howard Rodman and Joan Meyerson, said the 2007-08 strike was crucial.

“In 2007-08, we struck to obtain jurisdiction over the Internet and new media — easily the essential victory of this century,” Rodman said. “If you don’t think so, imagine a world in which ‘Orange Is the New Black’ and everything else in the Netflix/Amazon/Google universe were not covered by the guild.”

“As painful as it was, it proved the right thing to do,” Meyerson said. “None of us wanted to strike, but we knew our futures were at stake.”

VP candidate David Goodman noted that Internet residuals for writers are now almost $35 million a year, the fastest-growing category and second only to foreign TV reuse. “I’m rehashing all this because it’s easy to forget how effective we can be when we’re united behind common goals and, because we won, how important the threat of a strike is in negotiations,” he added.

Several candidates also complained about agents taking ongoing packaging fees for TV series. Meredith Stiehm said her agency was making more money from fees in the seventh season of “Cold Case” than she was as the creator — along with a percentage of her profits.

“I have since come to understand how the studios and agencies collude to keep packaging as a norm, securing money for them that belongs in our pockets,” she said. “We writers should have never opened this door; we now need to close it.”

Stiehm also said she’d campaign for more women writers on TV staffs. “When I ran ‘Cold Case’ and ‘The Bridge,’ I made it a mandate to have half women and half men on staff — and so we did. It’s not hard. The women writers are there.”

Board member Carleton Eastlake disclosed that the guild has just begun its long-lead preparations for the 2017 contract negotiations.

“Deep concerns about agents’ conflict of interest in packaging fees has underscored the need for a strong guild to represent writers’ interests against our agents as well as the studios,” he said. “Late pay abuses, one-step deals, free rewrite issues, forced paper teams and long holding periods all require further work.”

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