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Writers Guild Declares It’s ‘at an Impasse’ With Talent Agencies Over New Rules

Writers Guild of America West president David A. Goodman has announced that the guild is at an impasse with Hollywood agents in negotiations over tough new rules.

Goodman made the assertion in a message to members on Monday. The guild and the Association of Talent Agents have held two acrimonious sessions on Feb. 5 and 19 that have achieved little other than raising the level of rancor. Goodman predicted in the message that the agents will break off talks soon.

“We’ve made proposals that could have been talked through and agreed to last week, including promoting inclusivity, working together to fix free work and late pay, agency transparency and other issues important to writers,” he said. “But the agencies refused, and I now expect them to break off talks.”

“The parties are at impasse,” he added. “That happens in every negotiation where there are differences so strong that they can only be resolved by action away from the bargaining table.”

The WGA has been seeking to revamp the rules of engagement for agents with WGA members. The changes proposed by the WGA would effectively end all film and TV packaging deals, in which agencies receive both upfront and backend fees, and bar agencies from any financial interest in any entity or individual “engaged in the production or distribution of motion pictures.”

WME, CAA, and UTA in recent years have taken steps into content production and distribution, raising conflict of interest red flags in the view of many industry insiders. The WGA and the Association of Talent Agents are facing an April 6 contract expiration deadline to hammer out a new franchise agreement governing the rules for agents representing WGA members. The guild’s deal with the agencies hadn’t been touched since 1976.

The WGA has scheduled a March 25 vote for members to implement its own Code of Conduct spelling out new rules — which would require members to fire their agents if they haven’t signed on to the code.

Goodman’s message to members came a week after the WGA issued an email to members titled “Writers Share Their Experiences With Agency Packaging and Producing” — a series of 19 anonymous members complaining about how they were mistreated by their agents due to agencies allegedly putting their interests first and not being transparent.

Goodman’s email went out at mid-day Monday. Separately, a widely circulated message came out Monday from Ari Greenburg, president of WME, asking the agency’s writer clients to push the WGA to commit to “good-faith negotiations.” Greenburg issued the memo following four town-hall meetings last week at the agency’s Beverly Hills, Calif., headquarters that were attended by hundreds of writers.

Goodman’s message repeated the accusation that the agencies have never replied to the WGA proposals. “They have made vague promises to their clients, but no actual counter-proposals in formal negotiation,” he added.

See Goodman’s entire message below.

Dear Member,

We are at an important moment in our campaign to ensure that our agencies work for writers’ best interests.  Last week, after the WGA offered to meet with the agencies on both February 27th and 28th, the ATA issued an ultimatum that they will not meet for further negotiations unless we are willing to “compromise on all proposals.”  Specifically, this means compromise on allowing agencies to continue conflicted practices like packaging and producing.

This is a power move by the agencies.  It is in fact the absolute heart of the whole struggle that we have undertaken.  This moment had to arrive.

It comes 330 days after we gave the ATA our proposals, which demand an end to corrupt agency practices that harm writers.  Are our proposals radical?  No.  Our Code of Conduct prohibits exactly the kind of self-dealing that these very agencies agree to forego when they represent professional athletes.

Still, the agencies have never replied to our proposals; they have made vague promises to their clients, but no actual counter-proposals in formal negotiation.

That’s because we’ve demanded things that they almost certainly will not concede without a fight.  And I don’t think we should concede these proposals without a fight.  I understand how frustrating it is for writers that negotiations are currently stalled.  No one is more frustrated than me.  But I ask you to recall the appeal I made to you in my recent speech to the membership:

“Why am I suggesting that we will probably need to vote on implementing a Code of Conduct rather than being able to get a negotiated settlement? Fundamentally, it’s about the nature of the changes we seek. The only way for the Guild to ensure that agents properly represent our members is to eliminate conflicts of interest. The big agencies have given us every indication they will not accept our proposals in those areas, although of course we will try to reach an agreement before our current agreement expires on April 6.

But there are negotiations where there is no middle ground, where there are basic principles that are not subject to compromise. That’s why agency conflicts of interest are illegal under both state and federal law. Yet the agencies demand hundreds of millions from the companies annually for representing us, and so far they have gotten away with it.

We have of course already been called unreasonable by the agencies, and this will continue. Be prepared. As writers we are often filled with self-doubt and a desire to be seen as fair, reasonable and willing to compromise. But it is crucial for us to understand: there is no meaningful compromise where conflict of interest is concerned. It’s a binary choice. Either agencies put our interests first and make their money from our success or, like now, they will continue in the business of maximizing their own success while writers suffer. We hold the cards here – let’s not allow our own sense of fairness to be wielded against us in this agency campaign.”

We would have preferred to keep meeting with the agencies in order to narrow our areas of disagreement, leaving the biggest issues for last.  During the second day of talks, the Guild modified some of our initial proposals, including dropping a key demand. We’ve made proposals that could have been talked through and agreed to last week, including promoting inclusivity, working together to fix free work and late pay, agency transparency and other issues important to writers.  But the agencies refused, and I now expect them to break off talks.

The parties are at impasse.  That happens in every negotiation where there are differences so strong that they can only be resolved by action away from the bargaining table.

The impasse will be broken by the membership vote in a few weeks.  Writers will decide in a democratic election what the guild should do about agency conflict of interest. The decision remains yours.  I continue to ask for your support, for your faith in what we are doing, and for your courage.  None of this is easy.  I also feel doubt, question myself every day, and worry about negative ramifications to my own career for what we’ve taken on.  But I always come back to the same place: we’re doing the right thing.  We have the power as writers to fix the agency business and ensure that those that represent us are truly on our side.

In Solidarity,

David A. Goodman
President, WGAW

P.S. There are a number of issues that have come up in writer feedback about the agency campaign.  In the days to come, we will address these issues in more detail than was possible in either the speech or an FAQ.  Here they are:

1- Our Representatives Have Taken Our Leverage and Used It to Enrich Themselves
2- Packaging Is Good for Me
3- Everyone Will Have to Pay 10% Commission
4- Writers Won’t Get the Money Back
5- Affiliate Production is Wonderful for Writers
6- My Agent is Not Like That
7- You are Asking Me to Choose Between My Guild and My Agent
8- Impact on MBA Negotiations If We Do Nothing
9- History of the MCA Breakup

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