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Writers Guild Spurns Abrams Artists Agency Offer to End Packaging Fees

The Writers Guild of America has spurned an offer by Abrams Artists Agency to accept WGA’s key requirements in order to return to representing WGA members again.

The agency had proposed that it would stop taking packaging fees and engaging in affiliate production if it could represent WGA members. The offer was conditional, in that Abrams wouldn’t sign the WGA Code of Conduct due to the code’s requirements about information sharing.

The WGA’s response was that it would only accept Abrams signature if it included the entire code rather than parts of it. Abrams chief Adam Bold met with WGA West Executive Director David Young on Tuesday afternoon and said Young was not willing to have any dialogue about modifying the offer.

“Honestly, I’m disappointed, sad, and perplexed by this decision,” Bold said. “I expected that we would have a common goal, which was to put people back to work in the interim while the litigation is going on, but instead it seems that the WGA has other priorities. I don’t have the desire nor the resources or energy to spend trying to engage in negotiations on the sort of agreement that a union makes with the trade association. I’m not a labor negotiator.  I’m not pretending to try and solve the bigger issue.”

“Instead, I thought that I had a reasonable and fair workaround for our clients and staff to earn a living until they work out those bigger issues,” Bold added. “We simply took the agreement that had been in place for 42 years and made an addendum removing the most contentious and egregious issues.”

The WGA directed its members on April 12 to fire their agents following the major agencies’ refusal to sign onto a new Code of Conduct, which bars the agencies from collecting packaging fees and from owning interests in production companies. Five days later, the WGA and eight members sued CAA, WME, UTA and ICM Partners, alleging the agencies have been acting illegally in collecting packaging fees.

The union argues that the fees create an unlawful conflict of interest and has persuaded about 73 smaller agencies to sign the code. Verve, which has about 30 agents, agreed to the Code on May 16 and is by far the most prominent agency to sign on. Abrams has about 65 agents.

Young said in an email to Bold that he could not allow Abrams to have an exemption to the new Artists Management Basic Agreement (AMBA) when the 73 other agencies have agreed to its terms.

“I appreciate your effort but I hope you understand that we cannot agree to what you are proposing,” Young said. “There are many reasons, but a fundamental one is that we’ve now negotiated a whole, new AMBA with many terms that are better than the old agreement.  We opened the contract after 43 years because writers don’t like it. We cannot make an interim deal that takes us back where we were in 1976.”

“Another thing I want you to know is that we’ve currently signed 73 agencies to the new agreement; there are 27 remaining AMBA signatories with whom we have not reached a new deal, including Abrams,” Young added. “Under the favored nations terms of our agreements with the 73, if I go backward and make a deal with you that has lesser terms than the deals we’ve made with the signed agencies, the WGA will have to give your deal to all 73!  You can see that we’d never do that.”

“We’re in a three month struggle to get a deal that supersedes the 1976 AMBA, not one that uses it as a benchmark,” he concluded. “The agreement that I sent to you incorporates many changes from the original Code of Conduct of a few months ago, the result of negotiating discussions over the months with both the ATA and many individual agencies that have already signed. If you want to get on the phone to discuss this, let me know.”

The WGA has been hit recently by a trio of suits by CAA, WME and UTA alleging that the guild is abusing its collective bargaining authority. The WGA has brushed off the suits and sent a cease-and-desist letter on June 28 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.

Negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents have been futile, collapsing twice — first on April 12 and again on June 7. WGA West president David Goodman announced on June 20 that the guild would only negotiate with WME, CAA, UTA, ICM Partners, Paradigm, Gersh, APA, Rothman Brecher and Kaplan Stahler. None of the agencies have done so, insisting that they will only bargain through the ATA.

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