The Writers Guild of America has proposed to start negotiations with studios in mid-May and extend the expiration of its contract two months to June 30.
Representatives for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers did not have an official comment on Friday so the May 11 start date is not yet locked down. The WGA proposed to to exchange proposals on May 1, and begin negotiations via Zoom and other means starting May 11.
The WGA also proposed that the WGA Health Fund — which is jointly administered by representatives of the guild and the studios — extend eligibility to plan participants through the end of the year.
David Young, executive director of the WGA West and lead negotiator, issued the letter Wednesday to Carol Lombardini, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Lombardini had proposed on April 8 that proposals be exchanged on April 15 and that talks start on April 20. She also noted at that point that the AMPTP had agreed to extend the contract to June 30.
“I am writing in response to your April 8 letter concerning MBA negotiations. I thank you for your letter,” Young said. “You’ve expressed frustration that it has taken until now to provide you with a response to the AMPTP’s proposed contract extension and dates for commencing negotiations. But I hardly need to remind you the COVID-19 pandemic poses unprecedented challenges to the conduct of meaningful, and we hope successful, negotiations. The effect of the crisis is particularly disruptive for the Guild, which represents the interests of 15,000 writers located throughout the country, with whom we regularly must communicate about bargaining objectives and developments.”
“Having assessed all of our options in light of the constantly changing public health situation, the Guild responds to the AMPTP’s proposal as follows,” he went on. “We are prepared to agree to an extension of the 2017 MBA until June 30. We propose to exchange proposals for a successor MBA by the close of business on May 1, and agree to begin negotiations by video and telephone conference during the week of May 11. This will give both sides a week to analyze the opening proposals, while still leaving almost eight weeks in which to conduct negotiations.”
“In addition, and as a further means of addressing the immediate impact of the pandemic, the Guild proposes that on or before April 24 the trustees of the WGA Health Fund adopt an amendment to the plan extending eligibility to plan participants who will lose coverage through the end of the year because they fail to meet the earnings threshold during this time period and otherwise don’t have extended care points to continue their coverage.”
“I hope to hear from you regarding this proposal in the next few days,” Young concluded.
The coronavirus has upended the business climate for contract talks for the WGA as well as SAG-AFTRA, and many industry insiders believe the WGA will not be able to call for a strike amid the widespread shutdown of production and economic uncertainty ahead. The WGA and AMPTP had agreed in early March that the negotiations were to have started March 23, until coronavirus prevention measures made it untenable to hold face-to-face bargaining sessions.
The WGA has considered options that included a proposal to extend the expiration of the current master contract by a full year to May 1, 2021 — including the gains achieved in the new Directors Guild of America master contract, which will go into effect on July 1. WGA leaders told their members on March 24 that they might not be able to conclude a new contract by May 1, adding that they would not ask for a strike authorization vote in the interim.
The Directors Guild of America’s new deal, which was ratified by its members earlier this month, includes a provision for a significant boost in made-for-streaming TV series residuals — an issue for both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA.
SAG-AFTRA’s current contract expires on June 30. The performers union has not yet set a date for negotiations with the AMPTP.
The WGA negotiating committee sent out a message to members on Friday afternoon:
The Guild is confronting many challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps the most significant is how best to renegotiate our MBA, which is set to expire on May 1st. The planned March 23rd date to begin bargaining with the AMPTP had to be scuttled upon the order to shelter at home. In mid-March, our committee began meeting virtually to deliberate how best to move forward under these unique and rapidly-evolving circumstances.
We have now determined the best course of action is to propose extending the MBA expiration date to June 30, 2020. On Wednesday, we proposed that extension to the AMPTP, along with dates in May to exchange bargaining proposals and begin negotiations. The extension would give writers two more months to work under the protections of the current agreement, and time for the committee to finalize our proposals and bargain via video conference with the AMPTP. June 30th would also give us ten more weeks to better understand how the pandemic and government policies will continue to impact writers and the industry.
Even in the midst of these unprecedented circumstances, our committee remains determined to fight for writers’ long-term and short-term interests in this negotiation. The crisis has increased our resolve to advance the bargaining goals we’d already set, including gaining additional contributions to our benefit plans and fair compensation and residuals for streaming.
On a related matter, Guild leadership has heard from members concerned about continuing health care coverage during this disruption. Therefore, as part of the lead-up to the negotiation, the Guild has asked the AMPTP Health Fund trustees to agree with us to adopt an extension of eligibility to plan participants who would otherwise lose coverage between now and the end of the year. The details of any extension would be determined by the trustees, who are 50% AMPTP and 50% WGA.
We have not yet heard back from the AMPTP about our proposals.
We will be back in touch in the near future. In the meantime, you can communicate with us about negotiations at MBA2020@wga.org or through your captain.
WGA MBA Negotiating Committee
Michele Mulroney, Co-Chair
Shawn Ryan, Co-Chair
Betsy Thomas, Co-Chair
Ashley Nicole Black
Dante W. Harper
Melissa London Hilfers
Lauren Ashley Smith
Patric M. Verrone
David A. Goodman, Ex-Officio
Marjorie David, Ex-Officio
Beau Willimon, Ex-Officio
Kathy McGee, Ex-Officio
Bob Schneider, Ex-Officio