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Agents Warn Writers Against Using Managers, Lawyers to Make Deals

Hollywood agents have warned the Writers Guild of America against authorizing managers and lawyers to negotiate deals for writers in place of agents.

The letter was sent Friday morning, with the WGA expected to require a mass firing of agents as early as Saturday morning if the guild cannot make a deal with agents to revamp its franchise agreement.

“We write to advise you that the purported delegation violates both the California Talent Agencies Act and New York’s General Business Law and to demand its immediate retraction,” said the letter from Marvin S. Putnam of Latham & Watkins.

The missive was sent on behalf of the Association of Talent Agents on Friday morning to the WGA leaders, telling them that doing so is illegal and that the that ATA views the authorization as “unfair and unlawful competition.” It warned of unspecified “appropriate action” if the WGA continues to authorize managers and lawyers to act as agents.

Putnam’s letter also said that the WGA has advised members that managers and lawyers are free to disregard state licensing laws because the WGA has ultimate authority as a matter of federal labor law. “This is patently false,” he declared.

“The WGA cannot delegate authority it does not have,” Putnam continued. “The WGA, like all unions, is empowered to bargain collectively on behalf of its members. The WGA cannot, consistent with its duties under federal law, negotiate individual deals to the benefit of some members and to the detriment of others or delegate the right to do so.”

“The Association of Talent Agents considers any unlawful procurement entered into at the behest of the WGA to be unfair and harmful competition that will harm the ATA and its member agencies,” he added. Accordingly, we demand the immediate retraction of the WGA’s purported ‘delegation.’ ATA will take appropriate action as needed, against any person engaged in unfair competition to protect the lawful interests of its members.”

The WGA issued a response accusing the agencies of trying to bully managers and attorneys.

“The Guild stands by its action in lawfully delegating the authority it has as the exclusive representative of writers under federal law,” it said. “The agencies are attempting to intimidate attorneys and managers to stop them from performing work they routinely do.”

The WGA and the ATA have made some progress in negotiations to revamp the 43-year-old rules governing how agents represent writers. In a proposal disclosed Thursday, the ATA offered to share a portion of earnings from package deals with writers. Negotiations are scheduled to begin again at 3 p.m. PDT — a mere nine hours before the expiration of the current franchise agreement.

The WGA has said it will require its members to fire their agents if they have not agreed to a new “Agency Code of Conduct,” which eliminates agency packaging fees and ownership in production companies, after the current agreement expires at the end of Friday night.

California law states that only licensed talent agents are allowed to procure employment. But the guild asserted March 20 in a declaration to managers and lawyers that it has the right to delegate its exclusive bargaining authority on terms that it establishes.

The WGA also told members on that date, “Many Guild members have a manager and/or attorney who can help fill some of the gap. To eliminate any doubt, the Guild has issued a formal written delegation authorizing managers and lawyers who represent WGA members to procure employment and negotiate overscale terms.”

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