CAA, UTA and WME have consolidated their antitrust suits against the Writers Guild of America into a single action, accusing the union of engaging in an illegal group boycott.
The agencies filed the suit Friday in federal court in Los Angeles. The complaint repeats allegations that were filed in individual agency suits in June and July, accusing the WGA of abusing its collective bargaining authority and engaging in an unlawful “power grab.”
“WGA leadership has engaged in an unprecedented abuse of union authority that has pushed their Guilds well beyond the protection of the labor exemptions,” the new complaint alleged. “Their tactics are unlawful, and WGA’s outright bans on agency packaging and content affiliates do not serve any legitimate union interest.”
The move was expected. The agencies were ordered earlier this month by U.S. District Court Judge Andre Birotte to consolidate the suits with a deadline of Friday.
The case will be closely watched for the WGA’s response over the next few weeks. The WGA must respond by Oct. 18. It issued a cursory response Friday: “On September 13, the federal judge overseeing the WGA/WME-CAA-UTA lawsuits granted the WGA’s motion to consolidate the three cases and required the agencies to file a new single amended complaint. The agencies complied with that order today.”
After the UTA and WME suits were filed in June, the guild responded by issuing a cease-and-desist letter to the Association of Talent Agents and the top eight agencies accusing them of having engaged in “collusive actions that constitute unlawful restraints of trade” under the Sherman Act including collusion and price-fixing.
The WGA directed its 15,000 members to fire their agents on April 12, following the major agencies’ refusal to sign onto a new Code of Conduct, which bars the agencies from collecting packaging fees and engaging in affiliate production. The union had argued that the fees create an unlawful conflict of interest. More than 70 agencies — including mid-size agencies Buchwald, Kaplan Stahler and Verve — have signed deals with the WGA with those bans in place.
The union also filed its own state court suit against UTA, WME, CAA and ICM Partners in April, seeking to invalidate packaging fees, then withdrew the action in August and refiled the suit in federal court without ICM as a plaintiff. The WGA also announced in June that it would only negotiate with individual agencies and called off talks with the Association of Talent Agents.
In results that were announced on Sept. 16, members of the WGA West strongly supported the leadership’s position with David Goodman an his allies winning a contentious race in which opponents contended that the guild needed to negotiate a deal with the ATA. More than 58% of eligible members voted.
The new suit made no mention of the recent withdrawal of an initial public offering by Endeavor, parent of WME. The WGA had strenuously opposed the IPO and said Thursday, “Reports that the Endeavor IPO has been withdrawn show that investors didn’t buy the company’s conflicted business practices.”
The consolidated action seeks a jury trial, an injunction against the WGA, triple damages and attorney fees.
“Plaintiffs have and will continue to lose work, lose clients (thousands so far), lose packaging fees, and suffer irreparable harm to its business and property as a result of WGA’s unlawful conspiracy,” the new complaint said. “In addition, the ultimate consumers of film and television shows will be injured by the reduction in film and television output caused by WGA’s conspiracy. Plaintiffs will prove the amount of damages they have suffered as a result of WGA’s antitrust violation at trial and are entitled to both triple damages and attorney’s fees.”