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Writers Guild Candidate Phyllis Nagy: ‘A Change in Strategy is Called for’

Phyllis Nagy
Michael Buckner/Variety/Shutterstock

Phyllis Nagy, who is challenging Writers Guild of America West’s president David Goodman, is calling for a change in strategy in regard to the current stalemate between the WGA and Hollywood agents.

“After nearly a half year’s stasis, it’s necessary to recognize that a change in strategy is called for—and that’s what we offer. A negotiated solution with the ATA (Association of Talent Agents) now is what we truly believe gets us to the successful 2020 MBA (Minimum Basic Agreement) negotiation we need and deserve. The risks against choosing the ‘reasonable’ course are simply too great to ignore,” Nagy said in a post titled “Cutting to the Election Chase” on Wednesday.

Nagy is the head of the Writers Forward Together slate with a platform that the WGA needs to get back to the bargaining table with the ATA after two months of staying away. The contest, which includes races for secretary-treasurer and eight board seats, is viewed as a referendum on the WGA’s hard-nosed approach — and how the WGA will handle upcoming negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

Ballots will be mailed on Aug. 29 to about 10,000 WGA West members. Election results will be announced on Sept. 16.

“For many of us, this election hinges on a single question: Do you want to negotiate a smart deal with the ATA now, or strike for no deal next year against the companies? Current leadership wants us to believe that our action will strengthen us in AMPTP negotiations, that our action against the agencies shows the companies that we mean business,” Nagy said in her post.

Nagy also asserted the AMPTP’s refusal in March to add an anti-packaging fee clause to the current master contract, citing concerns about possible violations of federal and state labor laws, means that the companies will exploit the current situation next year.

“The truth is, the companies are not displeased with the action against the agencies,” she said. “We’ve all heard the anecdotes from membership — studio execs praising direct access to writers —no gatekeepers, no middlemen — and yet we do not ask the pertinent question: why would they be happy about this? It’s not for lack of paying packaging fees to agencies. That continues to happen — packages built around IP, directors, actors — but not around writers.”

“Could it be because when we largely rep ourselves we cut worse deals?” Nagy asked. “This is precisely what I’m hearing privately from dozens of members. Granted, in an election cycle where there is very little hard data being disseminated by current leadership, we are overly reliant on the anecdotal. Still, either we accept that our membership reports the truth to us, or we insist that every anecdote in contradiction to the current leadership narrative is anti-solidarity agency propaganda.”

Goodman announced on June 20 that the guild had called off negotiations with the ATA in favor of pursuing individual talks with nine top agencies as it enforces a total ban on packaging fees and affiliated production for agents representing guild members. A trio of mid-size agencies — Verve, Buchwald and Kaplan Stahler — have signed agreements in recent months.

The issue of packaging fees, under which agents are paid fees by the studio instead of commissioning their clients, is a critical part of the stalemate between the WGA and the agencies. The guild is claiming that such fees are illegal and has sued CAA, WME, UTA and ICM Partners. That’s resulted in countersuits by CAA, WME and UTA, alleging that the guild is violating antitrust law.