With no fanfare, Hollywood studios and leaders of the Writers Guild of America have moved back the start of master contract negotiations a week to May 18.
Representatives of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers were not immediately available for comment about the change, which was revealed Saturday. A WGA spokesman said, “It’s just a scheduling issue.”
The two sides had exchanged proposals, as scheduled, on May 1 in advance of starting negotiations remotely on May 11. They are facing a June 30 contract expiration. The WGA and the AMPTP originally agreed in early March to launch talks on March 23, but the coronavirus pandemic disrupted those plans.
According to sources, the key issues for the WGA include:
— Improvements in the payment structure for junior writers in “mini rooms,” in which small groups of writers work on a few series scripts in lieu of a produced pilot.
— Improvements in streaming residuals for made-for-subscription video on demand, or SVOD, and reuse. This was a key gain in the agreement ratified last month by members of the Directors Guild of America.
— Gains in the way “span” work-term issues are calculated and compensated for writers working for extended stretches on limited series with only six to 12 episodes per season, rather than the traditional 22 episodes. They’re also hoping to improve the amount of time that writers can be contractually bound to those shows. This was a key issue in the 2017 negotiations.
— Changes to Pension and Health plan contributions. In mid-April, WGA West executive director David Young, the guild’s lead negotiator, raised the issue of easing eligibility for health insurance for members who would lose their coverage later this year. He called the AMPTP “despicable” when its president, Carol Lombardini, said that she would need to consult with the studios. That led to speculation that the dispute could derail the start of talks, but the WGA notified its members on April 30 that negotiations would proceed as planned.
The WGA negotiations may also be taking place while SAG-AFTRA is still holding its master contract negotiations. The talks with the performers union and the AMPTP began on April 27 — also on a remote basis and with both sides pledging to adhere to a news blackout until the talks are completed. The SAG-AFTRA contract also has a June 30 expiration.