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WGA Negotiations Will Go Down to the Wire, Hollywood Agents Are Warned

The top negotiator for Hollywood agents has told members that the Writers Guild of America will not make a deal until near the April 7 expiration of the franchise agreement.

Karen Stuart, executive director of the Association of Talent Agents, issued the missive at mid-day Wednesday and blamed the guild over the lack of progress at the seven sessions, the last of which took place Tuesday. She singled out WGA West executive director David Young for orchestrating the current situation, which has placed Hollywood on edge over the WGA’s threat to require its 15,000 members to fire their agents.

“For over seven months ATA has offered to meet and engage in serious discussions to address writer’s issues, and we will continue to press the WGA for a real dialogue that promotes questions, answers and serious ideas to solve real, complex challenges,” Stuart said. “You may ask, ‘What have you all been doing at these seven meetings?'”

“The WGA has up to 35 people in the room,” she added. “There is no real exchange of ideas — there are no answers to our questions, many of which your own writer clients are asking you for answers to. The WGA has a standard negotiating practice and it is clear they will not bargain in good faith until the clock runs down.”

“In our March 21 meeting, David Young laid out his three-pronged negotiating strategy. He said that we’re still in phase two – the threatening phase,” Stuart said. “We look forward to a time when the WGA stops subjecting our members and the entire industry to ‘threats’ and moves on to their ‘phase three’ so that we can get to work on a deal.”

Young led the 2017 negotiations with the studios when they reached a deal on its master contract with less than an hour prior to expiration.

Members of the Writers Guild of America will start voting Wednesday night on a “code of conduct” that will enable writers to fire their agents on April 7. Five days of online voting by the 15,000 WGA members began Wednesday morning. The code includes provisions eliminating agency packaging fees and ownership interest in affiliate production companies by CAA, WME, and UTA — demands that the agencies have insisted are not feasible.

Guild leaders have said they expect the code to be approved overwhelmingly. If the 43-year-old franchise agreement expires on April 7, the WGA will require members to fire their agents if the agents have not agreed to the new code.

The WGA and the Association of Talent Agents have made negligible progress during seven negotiating sessions, starting on Feb. 5. The two sides met on Tuesday, then issued statements blaming each other for the lack of movement towards an accord. No new negotiations have been set.

Stuart’s missive also contained an overview of “key issues” at the talks, adding, “As you read through this, please keep in mind the hundreds of conversations our working group has been having with writers and the hard facts agencies have been providing that support why all of our proposals – which are centered on transparency and choice — are in the best interest of writers and all artists.”

Stuart said the WGA has struck down, almost in its entirety, the current 43-year-old franchise agreement, then listed the following issues:

 

Choice: Writers should have individual choice when charting their own career paths, and we will continue to fight for them.

Packaging and Production: While ATA has proposed an entire agreement based on transparency about packaging and production, WGA leadership has taken a “no compromise” approach on these issues. Yet, the WGA has proposed that conflicts can be managed in the area of agency services related to film finance, sales and distribution provided the agency discloses its services to the writer.  Separately, they recent stated publicly that they will allow talent managers – who also produce content – to negotiate a writer’s deal.
Private Information: ATA has presented fair solutions to the Guild’s request that agencies provide their clients’ confidential information without the client’s individual consent.  WGA does not agree that the writer client’s consent is needed.
Chaos: WGA’s proposed contingency plan proposes that online resources, managers, attorneys, replacement agents and writer-to-writer networking can get the job done in place of your current agents.  Writers count on agents to get them their next job and thoughtfully guide their career trajectory. A website cannot do this. It is illegal for lawyers and mangers to do this. This is going to hurt writers who are not in deals, don’t have their next job, and who have been historically underrepresented in our industry.

 

Jobs: The Guild’s plan would eliminate hundreds of jobs for writers and artists by ending affiliate production entities at a time when strong agencies are exactly what artists need to help them navigate the media environment.
 

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