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WGA Girds for Contract Talks Amidst Awards Celebrations

Eight years after a bitter writers’ strike over new media, the Writers Guild of America is quietly preparing for a new set of negotiations that could start before the end of the year — though no date has yet been set.

“We just want to be sure that writers are fairly compensated,” says WGA West president Howard A. Rodman. “There are 408 series on the air, which means the entertainment industry is very popular. So writers get upset by the industry pushing back against them in ways big and small.”

The WGA reached a historic deal in 2014 with minimum terms covering “high-budget new media made for subscription video-on-demand,” such as Netflix. The successor deal, which runs to May 2017, also modified the option and exclusivity requirements for TV writers amid seasons that have become shorter than the traditional 22 episodes.

Rodman, who won a two-year term in the September election over Joan Meyerson, notes that companies have persisted in such practices as “paper teams,” in which two writers are hired at half pay each, and renaming seasons 1A and 1B to avoid paying second-season raises.

Rodman acknowledges that feature film writing continues to slide as major studios make fewer movies. The WGA West’s 2015 report to members showed Hollywood screenwriter earnings slid 5.4% last year to $313.9 million — the fifth straight year of decline — while TV writing earnings rose 2.3% to $725.6 million.

WGA East president Michael Winship agrees that the expansion of TV writing has lifted the spirits of his 4,000 members along with organizing the digital media sector of key sites including Gawker, the Huffington Post, Salon and Vice.

“It’s very heartening in terms of the next generation of organized labor and it’s a tribute to the patience and endurance of our organizers,” says Winship.

Rodman and Winship say there’s no plan to revise the guild’s policy on awards eligibility, which disqualified Oscar-nommed screenplays “Brooklyn,” “Ex Machina,” “Inside Out” and “Room.” “We view the awards as a celebration of our union, so we’re not going to change the rules,” Winship says.

Rodman adds, “It’s a far larger concern from the outside of the guild than inside the guild.”

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