WME and WGA Urged by Judge to Reach a Deal to End Writers’ Boycott

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A federal judge on Friday urged WME and the Writers Guild of America to set aside their “egos” and come to an agreement that would end the 20-month writers’ boycott.

WME has asked U.S. District Court Judge Andre Birotte to order an end to the boycott, which the agency argues is an illegal abuse of the guild’s power as a labor organization. Birotte seemed reluctant to do that, and used the hearing mostly to urge the two sides to settle the case, noting that real people are suffering the consequences.

“When I see all this back and forth, I have to ask the question: ‘C’mon folks, get together, get this done,'” Birotte said.

WME is the sole major agency that has yet to reach an agreement with the union. The agency has said it is willing to accept the WGA’s terms, which require it to phase out the practice of collecting packaging fees and to divest itself of all but 20% of Endeavor Content, its content production and development arm. The expansion into original content and distribution was a pillar of Endeavor’s effort to diversify beyond talent representation.

WME alleges that the guild has dragged out negotiations in order to punish the agency and its parent company, and that its agents are fleeing to other firms. At the hearing, WME’s attorney, Jeffrey Kessler, argued that it needs until the summer of 2022 to divest the Endeavor Content stake. Doing so more quickly would cause chaos, he argued, saying that projects would be canceled.

“We just can’t betray those actors and projects and directors and dump it,” Kessler said.

The WGA has argued that the Norris-LaGuardia Act, passed in 1933, bars the judge from ordering an end to the boycott. The judge is also not in a position to dictate to the parties what the terms of the settlement should be.

Even so, Birotte did venture into the weeds of the dispute, noting that WME’s content arm is far bigger than its rivals’, and that therefore it is not unreasonable that they should get more time to divest.

“WME is a different entity than the other agencies,” Birotte said. “If they are, and we’re talking about a much bigger spool to unwind, shouldn’t they be given more time to do that?”

Stacey Leyton, arguing for the guild, said Endeavor Content poses a serious conflict of interest, as WME agents effectively sit on both sides of the table in negotiations with the company. She also argued that the parties should be the ones to determine the details of the deal.

Creative Artists Agency reached its own deal on Wednesday, under which it agreed to divest itself of Wiip, its affiliated production arm, by a date that has been kept confidential. Kessler argued that the same timeline should not apply to Endeavor Content, which has been around longer and in which Endeavor has invested tens of millions of dollars.

“Wiip is a startup,” Kessler told the judge.

Birotte argued that the parties are closer to resolution than it may appear, and urged them both to get it done.

“Find a path to try to resolve this,” he said.

Birotte concluded the hearing by saying he would take the request for an injunction under submission.