Writers Guild Presses for Tougher Agency Rules: ‘You Will Be Empowered’

With no end in sight for its six-month standoff with agents, leaders of the Writers Guild of America are doubling down on the need to revamp the rules.

In a message sent to members Thursday, the guild’s negotiating committee underlined its long-held assertion that Hollywood agents need to be more transparent if they are going to be allowed to represent the 15,000 WGA members.

“One of the wonkiest issues in this agency negotiation is our request that agencies automatically send writers’ contracts and invoices to the guild,” the WGA said. “Why is this issue so important? It comes down to two crucial benefits this will provide: 1. Data. 2. Tools to fight free work, late pay, and underpayment.”

“Knowledge is power,” the missive said. “Agents have it, writers need it. With contract sharing in place, the guild will be able to collect overall salary data for the membership, aggregate it, and turn it into incredibly valuable tools that all of us can use. Think how empowered you would be if you could walk into your next negotiation are with information like:

— What’s the median salary for the job I’m about to take? That could mean industry-wide, or even as specific as ‘a first-time co-producer on an ABC hour-long.’
— In features, does Studio A typically only do 1-step deals? What about their competitors? If Studios B and C typically offer better terms, would I rather try to work for those places?
— What is my studio’s pay range for pilots? As compared to its competitors?
And so on.

Then, instead of having to blindly rely on your agent to tell you that ‘This is a fair deal,’ or ‘This is the best we can get,’ you will ‘know’ whether or not that’s true. Instead of your representative having all the information – and thus, all the power – you will now be empowered.”

The WGA concluded the message by asserting, “A core obligation of any labor union, in any industry, is to protect its members from abusive working practices. Contracts and invoices will provide the Guild with long-overdue tools to defend writers, and also empower us with data to take charge of our own careers.”

The announcement comes as the WGA has been locked in a heated standoff over the past six months with Hollywood agents over the issues of how agents represent WGA members. The guild required on April 13 that members fire their agents if the agents had not signed a Code of Conduct which bans agents from taking packaging fees and prohibits agencies from owning production affiliates.

President David Goodman and his allies handily won the WGA West contest on Sept. 16 with a record turnout of 58%. After winning, Goodman promised that WGA leaders would begin meeting soon with individual agencies to sign agreements regarding the bans on packaging fees and affiliate production.

Currently, more than 70 agencies are allowed to represent WGA members thanks to agreeing to a ban of agency packaging fees and affiliate production. A trio of mid-sized agencies — Verve, Kaplan Stahler and Buchwald — have signed deals with the WGA since April. Goodman has asserted that non-franchised agency outreach to writers has increased as agents continue to try to pressure and/or entice their former clients to violate the guild regulations in Working Rule 23.

Sources have told Variety that other mid-sized agencies have expressed reluctance to agree to rules that are perceived as giving the WGA increased power over their clients.

CAA, UTA and WME recently 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 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.”

Current WGA rules require members to report any new contract: “Each member must promptly file with the Guild office a copy of his/her contract of employment (whether such agreement provides for leasing of material, participation in profits, residuals or otherwise) in no case later than one week after the receipt of the contract.”

The Association of Talent Agents, which had been in negotiations on behalf of the town’s agencies until June, issued a dismissive response on Friday that repeated its assertions that the WGA is denying its members “choice” by insisting on the new rules.

“Agents have a fiduciary duty not to disclose a client’s confidential financial information unless the client consents to the disclosure,” the statement said. “The WGA leadership is well aware that most clients prefer not to disclose this information, which is why the Guild does not enforce its existing rules requiring writers to send their contracts to the WGA.”

“Additionally, studios are also already required to provide copies of all writer contracts to the guild. The agencies’ proposal included providing writer contracts, with the right of their clients to say ‘no.’ Yet the WGA rejected that outright and the only ‘opt-out’ they have since accepted is one that requires agencies to report on clients, by name, to the Guild. This is not about the Guild serving as the ‘muscle,’ but rather another example of its continuous attempts to limit writers’ choice,” the statement concluded.


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