The Writers Guild of America and the major Hollywood studios have set the broad outline of a new master film and TV contract, quieting concerns about labor strife adding to the industry’s struggle to relaunch production amid the turmoil of the pandemic.
The guild’s negotiating committee notified its members late Wednesday afternoon that the new contract, which will be sent to the 15,000 dues-current members for ratification, contains more than $200 million in gains over the three-year term. It also noted that the WGA’s leverage in the negotiations had been diluted due to the complications created by the COVID-19 crisis.
The 35-member panel said many of the new terms of the minimum basic agreement (MBA) track those recently negotiated by SAG-AFTRA and the Directors Guild of America including increases in subscription VOD residuals.
“We were able to fight off significant writer-centric rollbacks, which would have been very damaging if they’d made it into the MBA,” the committee said. “In addition, as part of an overall package valued at more than $200 million over three years, we were able to achieve several writer-specific gains.”
The changes included eliminating writer training and new writer discounts that undercut screen and television minimums and disproportionately impacted underrepresented groups; a new paid parental leave fund available to all writers who qualify for health insurance was established, with benefits beginning in May, 2021, entirely funded by an employer contribution of .5% on writers’ earnings; and a pension fund increase of 1.5% to 10%, with the ability to divert an additional 1.25% from minimums, if needed, over the final two years of the contract.
The gains also included improved protections for television writers in the area of options and exclusivity, including specific limitations on options after short periods of employment, and expanded the number of writers covered by the span protections first negotiated in 2017.
“Although the ongoing global pandemic and economic uncertainty limited our ability to exercise real collective power to achieve many other important and necessary contract goals, we remain committed to pursuing those goals in future negotiations,” the committee said.
Multiple sources said the three-year contract agreement was essentially settled in the wee hours of Wednesday after a marathon negotiating session between WGA members and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
Sources said the WGA made significant gains on what was the biggest sticking point in the talks at the end, namely the issue of how long writers can be held off the market under exclusive option to a TV series when the show is out of production. The deal is also believed to raise the earnings threshold for writers working on short-order shows to be paid under a more advantageous per-episode formula.
Previously, writers who earned less than $280,000 per season from a show were eligible for the formula designed to make sure that they were still being paid at the guild’s minimum weekly rate — something that went awry for many writers as more shows began to have longer production cycles for a less than 22-episode orders. The new deal is believed to move that cap up to $325,000 per season.
The previous WGA contract set in 2017 expired at 12:01 a.m. PT Wednesday.
Talks between the WGA and AMPTP launched six weeks ago on a remote basis due to the COVID-19 pandemic after two start dates were vacated. Representatives were facing a June 30 expiration of the current film and TV contract — and the lack of a deal had prompted worries among studios that a strike could be in the works if no agreement is reached.
But the economic wallop of the pandemic cost the WGA the leverage of a strike threat. Rank and file guild members were not expected to embrace a work stoppage at a time when 40 million-plus Americans were have been abruptly thrown out of work because of the coronavirus lockdown.
The WGA negotiations were originally scheduled to commence on March 23 but were pushed back to May 11 and then May 18 as the coronavirus upended business as usual and brought production to a virtual standstill. And before talks started, the expiration of its current three-year deal was extended for two months to June 30.