Hollywood writers will need to issue an official strike threat in 2020 to get a decent contract, according to the incoming president of the Writers Guild of America West.
David A. Goodman, who will become the new WGA West president on Sept. 18, has told members in recent days that getting a strike authorization is essential to improving on the current three-year master contract, which was hammered out at the last minute on May 1.
Goodman, in his statement to members in the 70-page WGA West election booklet sent out a few days ago, asserts that membership’s 96% support of a strike authorization in April was requisite for the gains in the current deal.
Goodman, the current VP of the guild and an ex-officio member of the negotiating committee, is the only candidate to succeed Howard Rodman. The WGA West nominating committee selected Goodman and another candidate, who withdrew, and no one opted to run by petition.
The current deal includes revised provisions addressing shorter TV seasons, provides up to eight weeks of family leave and shores up the WGA health plan. Goodman said the strike authorization vote — taken two weeks before the contract expired with 67% of about 10,000 eligible members participating — was the key factor in getting a better deal.
“The leverage of this vote is what gave us the improvements,” Goodman said. “But the gains we made will be ultimately meaningless if they can’t be improved upon. The limits placed around the short season provisions mean that though some writers will see relief, many will not; the family leave provision, while a good start, is only that, a start; in order to keep the health fund healthy, we had to agree to $7 million in cuts, cuts that will certainly be felt by our members.”
Goodman noted that the new deal does not include many important writer demands that were not achieved including script parity across platforms, a second step guarantee for feature writers and improved ad-based VOD residuals.
The WGA last struck a decade ago for 100 days in a bitter work stoppage before reaching a deal in February, 2008. The following two negotiations were relatively quiet while this year’s negotiations featured verbal fireworks and a constant refrain that the six major media conglomerates had generated combined operating profits of $49 billion in 2016.
“In order for us to do better next time, we will need another strike threat, and with that comes the possibility again of an actual strike,” Goodman said. “And for that, we will need to organize the membership. If a strike is necessary, this negotiation showed that the members can be ready, and this is a considerable achievement.”
This year’s WGA negotiations also prompted debate over the impact of the 2007-08 strike. At one point, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said, “The companies are committed to reaching a deal at the bargaining table that keeps the industry working. The 2007 Writers Strike hurt everyone. Writers lost more than $287 million in compensation that was never recovered, deals were cancelled, and many writers took out strike loans to make ends meet.”
Goodman contended in his statement that the 2007 strike was a “major” success.
“That doesn’t mean it didn’t come without a substantial cost, but it resulted in the WGA gaining the most important jurisdiction since its founding: the internet,” Goodman added. “Jurisdiction of the internet for new work, and residuals for reuse on the internet have become the fastest growing sectors of writers earnings. And when we went on strike, those sectors didn’t exist; there were no original streaming shows, and reruns on internet sites really began after the strike was over.”
By contrast, made-for-internet shows currently employ more than 15% of the working WGA membership, and streaming residuals are the fastest growing residual, according to Goodman.
“This was a vital expansion for the minimum basic agreement,” Goodman said. “It came with a great deal of pain and sacrifice, but it succeeded because the membership was organized.”
He also asserted that he plans to push for organizing: “There is always risk involved in these efforts, and that risk shouldn’t be underestimated, but as this year and 2007 proved, the only leverage we have is our unity.”
Marjorie David, a WGA West board member, has been nominated by the committee to succeed Goodman as vice president. Another unnamed candidate declined to run against her. Aaron Mendelsohn has been nominated to seek re-election as secretary-treasurer along with board member Carleton Eastlake.
The board’s nominating committee also nominated incumbents Andrea Berloff, Luvh Rakhe, Meredith Stiehm, and Zak Penn along with nine other candidates for eight open board seats. The remaining candidates are Francesca Butler, Nicole Yorkin, Angelina Burnett, John August, Michele Mulroney, Spiro Skentzos, and Patti Carr. Adam Horowitz and Ligiah Villalobos withdrew their candidacies.
“House of Cards” creator Beau Willimon is running unopposed for the presidency of the Writers Guild of America East to succeed Michael Winship, who has opted not to run. Willimon will assume the office on Sept. 19, when voting results are announced.
Incumbent vice president Jeremy Pikser and secretary-treasurer Bob Schneider are also running unopposed.
The 10 candidates for the six open freelance seats are Amy Sohn, David Handelman, Stu Zicherman, Tracey Scott Wilson, David Simon, and five incumbents — Susan Kim, Bill Scheft, Bonnie Datt, Courtney Simon, and Andrea Ciannavei. The five candidates for the three open staff seats are Kim Kelly, Jay Alpert, Hamilton Nolan, and incumbents Phil Pilato and David Keller.
The WGA West has about 9,000 members and the WGA East has around 4,000. The guilds jointly negotiate the master contract.