UPDATE — Hollywood studios have told the Writers Guild of America that contract negotiations, which have been delayed due to the coronavirus epidemic, need to begin by April 20.
Carol Lombardini, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers made the request Wednesday in a letter to David Young, executive director of the Writers Guild of America West. She noted that the AMPTP has agreed to extending the current contract expiration by two months from May 1 to June 30.
A WGA spokesman said, “The WGA will respond to the AMPTP after the negotiating committee meets.”
“I hope you continue to be well as we all deal with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lomdardini said. “The purpose of this letter is to follow up on our conversation of April 3, 2020, and to urge the Guild to take the necessary steps to ensure that we have ample time to negotiate a successor agreement to the 2017 Theatrical and Television Basic Agreement, which expires on May 1, 2020, only four weeks from now.”
“As you know, the AMPTP responded to your request to extend the May 1, 2020, expiration date of the 2017 WGA Theatrical and Television Basic Agreement (“MBA”) by offering to extend the contract until June 30, 2020, an eight-week extension. Customarily, negotiations between the AMPTP and the WGA take four to five weeks; our proposed date allows approximately double the amount of time (ten weeks) to reach an agreement. In our April 3rd telephone conversation, you indicated that the WGA remains undecided on our suggested extension date, and when I asked when we could expect a response, you said “sometime” before May 1. We find that response unacceptable.”
“While the pandemic has disrupted all types of business and has been particularly hard on our industry, it is incumbent on us to find new ways to get our work done. In the case of negotiations, we believe this can easily be accomplished by exchanging proposals as we normally do and conducting the negotiations through video and telephonic conferences. Moving forward with the goal of reaching an agreement by June 30 is essential to protect the tens of thousands of people who depend on this industry for a livelihood, including writers represented by the WGA. Both of us share the responsibility of creating the conditions that will make it possible for them –- many of whom have suffered severe hardships in the form of loss of income and access to health insurance -– to return to work in an environment that enables them to earn a living without fear of further disruption,” Lombardini said.
“To that end, the AMPTP-represented Companies propose that we exchange proposals by April 15, 2020 and begin negotiations by April 20, 2020 via video conference,” she concluded. “For purposes of scheduling, we are available to meet at times during the week of April 20th and thereafter as agreed. We respectfully ask that you provide us with the dates on which your bargaining committee is available so that we may set up a bargaining schedule and work earnestly toward reaching an agreement.”
The WGA has only said that it “continues to evaluate options” for conducting contract talks with Hollywood’s major studios that were supposed to start on March 23 until coronavirus prevention measures made it impossible to hold face-to-face bargaining sessions.
“We’re considering that and other options, but have made no proposal,” a guild spokesman said on April 2.
Leaders of the WGA told its members on March 24 that they could be forced to extend the current contract beyond its current May 1 expiration due to the coronavirus pandemic and that they would not seek a strike authorization from members prior to May 1: “Although we had originally planned to meet with the AMPTP beginning March 23, given the current health crisis we cannot effectively negotiate this important three-year agreement in our usual fashion. It may not be possible to conclude a new contract by May 1, nor will we be asking you for a strike authorization vote in the interim.”
News of the letter from Lombardini was first reported by Deadline.
(This story was updated to include the WGA response)