Clean sweep for big Hollywood studios as WGA negotiations end

The final domino in this year’s Hollywood collective bargaining round duly fell into line over the weekend as the Writers Guild, which had conducted a brave if fateful and lonely strike three years ago, announced a new contract agreement with the studios’ collective bargaining arm, the AMPTP.

The WGA leadership, more conservative than the team that led the strike, had surprised some by signaling an interest in taking a tougher stand than the other industry guilds. The DGA, SAG and AFTRA had all agreed to modest wage and benefit hikes with no real improvement in the new media space and no movement at all on labor’s share of what remains a $20 billion source of revenue from DVD and other home video sales and rentals.

But with the other guilds already having conceded to the studios their deals, the WGA was left alone and in two weeks fell into line with the pattern set by SAG and AFTRA.

Ironically this was precisely what was not supposed to happen. One reason for the drawn out negotiations three years ago was an attempt to better coordinate bargaining across the guilds in order to present a united front to the industry for improvements in wages, benefits and working conditions.

In particular the guilds had secured a promise of a reopening of bargaining over revenues generated by new media such as online streaming, a space that is undergoing huge growth signaled by the deal announced last week for Netflix to have exclusive distribution rights to a new TV show starring A-lister Kevin Spacey and produced by Media Rights.

But that re-opener  just did not open up. Instead, across the board the guilds engaged in what appeared to be almost pro forma minimal efforts to secure new deals as quickly as possible, in some cases many months before the scheduled contract expiration date.

Whether this is a sign of the decline of labor power in the industry or a misstep by too cautious leadership will not be clear for some months. When the guilds go through a new round of elections changes in leadership will be watched carefully to see if there is a reaction among the union rank and file.

WGA, AMPTP Reach New Three-Year Deal – The Hollywood Reporter.

8 thoughts on “Clean sweep for big Hollywood studios as WGA negotiations end”

  1. This detail is interesting but irrelevant to the key point: that SAG had been attempting to work with the WGA prior to the start of contract negotiations but was unable to persuade the WGA of their reliability as a bargaining partner such that the WGA would be willing to delay a job action until SAG had begun its bargaining cycle. That SAG’s inability to act as a reliable partner of the other guilds – other than AFTRA – continues today is evidenced by its willingness to engage in (very) early bargaining leaving the WGA, once again, to confront the entire studio world on its own. No wonder the WGA folded its tent in two weeks.

  2. This way I recall the events that lead up to the WGA strike:

    The WGA-E set up pickets as soon as their contract expired, at one minute after midnight Nov. 5, 2007. Meanwhile as pickets lines were being set up by the WGA-E in New York, the AMPTP was still in the midst of negotiating with the WGA negotiators at the AMPTP offices in Sherman Oaks, CA, at 9:01PM Pacific time.

    During a break, the AMPTP learned that the WGA-E was on strike, the AMPTP negotiators then came back to the negotiating table and informed the WGA negotiators that “they” (the WGA), were on strike and then the AMPTP negotiators, got up and walked away from the table.

    Was the WGA acting irrationally? No, I think that WGA-E played into the studios hands, when they gave the AMPTP an excuse to walk away from the table. This allowed the studios to put the entire industry on a de facto lockout, which softened up the other unions (SAG, AFTRA) , by the time it came for them to negotiate.

    It would’ve be better if the WGA worked without a contract until SAG’s contract was set to expire. woulda. coulda. shoulda.

  3. I will leave it to others to opine on whether your assessment of the truthfulness of the WGA leadership is valid, Eric, but please recall that the original plan in 2008 was for SAG and WGA to coordinate their bargaining in order to increase pressure on the AMPTP. In fact, SAG and WGA had conducted some joint demonstrations and the leadership of both unions was in ongoing talks about this process prior to the start of bargaining.

    And then, well, then the WGA seemed to go its own way. Sure, there was a lot of support by SAG actors for the strike but why was the WGA out on strike alone? In theory they could have delayed a walkout until the SAG/AFTRA negotiations had gotten underway.

    Instead one of the smallest of the guilds was forced to carry the weight for the entire industry. The outcome was practically inevitable.

    Was the WGA acting irrationally? I don’t think so. I think they realized that SAG, under the leadership of Rosenberg and Allen, was just not getting its act together, so to speak, and could not be counted on. In fact, an interview in Variety well after the strike with Verrone and Young confirmed this, if somewhat obliquely. And then SAG decided to turn on its long time bargaining partner, AFTRA, and the rest is history.

    Unfortunately, history often repeats itself – first as tragedy, then as farce, as some long dead political economist once said. This time around the farce was the six weeks of “hard” bargaining undertaken by SAG and AFTRA followed by the two weeks of “tough” bargaining by the WGA. All of these deals took place months before the common expiration deadline in late spring. Once again, even under allegedly “smart” moderate leadership, the guilds could not find a way to coordinate their efforts to increase their leverage.

  4. The members of the Writers Guild struck for and were told by our union that we had won residuals payments at double the DVD rate for Electronic Sell-Through of all audiovisual works authored by Writers Guild members produced after JUL.1.1971.

    Electronic Sell-Through refers to audiovisual works sold online as electronic downloads that allow the purchaser to keep a copy of the audiovisual work permanently.

    But no such victory, claimed by then and present Writers Guild executive director David Young and then president Patric Verrone, ever existed.

    And, in fact, an existing right was devastated.

    Residuals payments at any rate whatsoever were lost for the library of audiovisual works authored by WGA members between JUL.1.1971 and FEB.13.2008

    The key strike issues involved the Internet and new media – specifically Electronic Sell-Through (the iTunes model), streaming, and jurisdiction.

    The companies wanted to use the much-despised DVD rate to pay residuals on Electronic Sell-Through but we were not going to let that become reality.

    The union boasted that the newly negotiated double rate for download sales was not just for audiovisual works produced after the Effective Date of the renegotiated Basic Agreement but for works produced since JUL.1.1971.

    Nonetheless, that is not in the contract that David Young signed.

    In OCT.2007, before the strike, the union proposed eliminating the language from the existing Basic Agreement that required the Companies to pay Electronic Sell-Through residuals on audiovisual works produced after JUL.1.1971 at a rate yet to be determined.

    The 2008 WGA — AMPTP Theatrical and Television Basic Agreement that David Young signed no longer contained an active contract that required Electronic Sell-Through residuals payments on any audiovisual works produced before FEB.13.2008.

    The union claims that the AMPTP changed the language regarding double the DVD rate on all audiovisual works produced after JUL.1.1971 as the renegotiated document was being delivered to the membership meeting for a vote.

    The AMPTP claims that it rejected the WGA proposal of a double the DVD rate for the library of audiovisual works produced between JUL.1.1971 and FEB.13.2008.

    The dispute went to arbitration.

    A decision was recently issued.

    The arbitrator ruled that the double the DVD rate only applies to electronic downloads of audiovisual works produced after FEB.13.2008.

    No draft of the sideletter ever existed reflecting the union’s claim that the AMPTP had agreed that audiovisual works produced after JUL.1.1971 would be covered by the new rate provision.

    David Young signed a draft with language stating that the new rate provision for electronic downloads only applied to audiovisual works produced after FEB.13.2008.

    This is not the only instance of untruthfulness by the union relating to the strike.

    We were told that the health care eligibility clock would stop during the strike.

    Nonetheless, after the strike, we were told that the clock had not stopped.

    Yes, “the members of the Writers Guild… conducted a brave if fateful…strike”, more fateful than most, including most WGA members, understand.

    But it was not a “lonely strike three years ago” − the support of SAG members was unselfish and unwavering.

    In the archives of photographs and news footage of the 2007-2008 Writers Guild strike, the faces of actors are always there.

    Nonetheless, the Writers Guild abandoned solidarity when it was SAG’s turn at the table.

    That “across the board the guilds engaged in what appeared to be almost pro forma minimal efforts to secure new deals as quickly as possible” is not “a sign of the decline of labor power in the industry or a misstep by too cautious leadership”.

    There has not been labor power in this industry for over two decades.

    Not since these unions collaborated with the AMPTP on the secret so-called foreign levy agreements which the unions then used to access the private property of union members for use and exploitation by our employers.

    This mutilation of the Duty of Fair Representation was such that it became impossible going forward for the interests of writers, performers and directors to be well and vigorously represented by these unions in collective bargaining with the AMPTP.

    Counsel and senior executives at these unions lie as routinely and as naturally as taking a piss.

    It is the unions’ claim, not mine, made in federal and state courts that the agreements with the AMPTP regarding so-called foreign levies are collective bargaining agreements.

    Yet SAG still has not disclosed to the membership the existence of the agreement with the AMPTP although in a footnote in the Motion for Final Approval of the settlement of the class action lawsuit, “SAG disputes Mr. Hughes’ suggestion that the Foreign Levy Agreement is not a binding agreement on SAG and its members”.

    And despite the considerable peril of so doing, SAG has misrepresented to members that it has written us checks for foreign royalties in excess of $8 MM while its LM-2 and 990 filings have evidence of only slightly more than $500K being paid.

    Now that the foreign levies lawsuits have been settled without, as the unions had long and wrongly predicted, the court affirming the unions’ right to collect and distribute these monies or finding that no fraud has ocurred in the unions’ handling of these monies, the investigations and actions that had been put on hold are now back on track and viable.

    Before the next scheduled across the board engagement by the DGA, WGA, SAG and AFTRA in pro forma minimal efforts at collective bargaining the shadow collective bargaining agreements by which the unions claim members are bound will face a long overdue reckoning.

  5. Matt, Your memory of the sunny side of the Rosenberg administration is touching but misleading. A search of this site for “Rosenberg” will provide any curious reader with a full explanation of the problems of that era.

  6. Renee,

    It was a 20% increase in Pay TV residuals which Handel characterized as follows:

    “The writers’ deal also includes a 20% increase in pay TV residuals — i.e., the residuals payable when a pay TV show such as Showtime’s Dexter is rerun on pay TV. That gain is less dramatic than the percentage may suggest, however, since those residuals are a small, fixed amount, in contrast to more lucrative formulas provided in the directors and actors agreements.”

  7. Chickens coming home to roost. In every sense of the phrase. This absurd, multi-year denial of the true intentions of the current government of SAG, to merge with AFTRA into a producer-compliant union. The enthusiasts either knew all along, or, (worse) are beginning to realize actors are being screwed out of the things the Rosenberg administration presciently warned against: the HUGE mistake of not understanding the coming impact of new media, and the need for a fair precedent right away in 2008, that it will be the sole deliverer of content and that if actors in a specific “boutique” union, as Roberta Reardon (a non-actor with no mainstream credits. None!) so blithely dismissed the great Screen Actors Guild a while back, did not fight for a fair percentage of gross profits to actors in new media, it would be a catastrophic mistake down the line.

    “No, no no,” said the unsual suspects: Richard Masur leading the way, “it’s not worth striking over – there’s no money in new media! – we’ll deal with it if this ‘pipedream’ of a dominant new media delivery system ever actually comes true” (sarcasm dripping). Well, the Rosenberg administration, which was hobbled by AFTRA’s betrayal and moderate SAG’s betrayal, is being proven right. Surprise! You go up against the AMPTP, as they, in an across-the-board business plan for the 21st century, decide to draw the line, by severely limiting TV, movie and net actors – UNION actors – SAG actors – financial participation in BOTH front AND back end profits in new media? – THAT administration, the LAST one, is being proven right.

    Unionism is under severe attack, public and private, and the enablers of this possible merger are NOT pursuing strength, which a “one-man-one-vote” DEMOCRATIC union such as the FORMER SAG would have provided, but compliance and weakness, in the hapless belief the AMPTP are their “partners” and their “friends.” They are neither. Individually, there was never any reason for anything but civility at the negotiating table and in private or pubic gatherings, between SAG and the AMPTP, but the idiotic underestimation of the leverage that SAG ALWAYS had, (still does btw) by forcing the hand of its stars through democratic votes, stars who wouldn’t DARE cross a picket line – THAT was, and is the BIG give-away. Stars put asses in the seats and eyeballs on the screen – movie, computer, TV, hand-held, you name it. Projects, more than EVER, are BUILT around them. Thus it ever was, and it is still as much a driving factor in the infrastructure of 95% of mainstream Hollywood TV, movie AND (Kevin Spacey anyone?) net projects. And SAG is being led to the slaughter by a cabal of stars who want no work stoppages and largely non or semi-working actors who specifically, THAT group, are simply motivated, regardless of what they say, by HATRED and ENVY of Hollywood’s SAG division, and those who “made it,” or DO work in mainstream projects, and make a LIVING at this, while they never did, or no longer do.

    And I admittedly say this as a NY SAG division member who has done very well, and also has had terrible periods of unemployment throughout my 30 years as an actor. It comes down to a very simple human equation, when you talk to these people and get under their skin. They are LIVID and jealous people, most of them, endlessly pursuing “merger” much more for the supposed power, money and control it would bring to NY and the regions than any reality-based agenda of what’s coming and what’s already here. It’s not too late however, dark as the gathering skies seem to be. These people, the presidents of both unions are essentially hapless figureheads, with the real philosophers of merger propping them up: Kim Hedgpeth, David White, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, Sallie Weaver, Ned Vaughn, Richard Masur….

    The whole thing still may very well collapse under the sheer weight of their combined ineptitude and the seeming inertia setting in. A merger enthusiast attended a Chicago meeting last week, with top officials of both unions present, and was deeply struck (read it in Sagwatch, which then trivialized him, as they do anything anti-or-even-questioning merger) by the LACK of answers! To the SIMPLEST questions! A LONG series of “non-answers,” or, “we haven’t decided,” or “we’ll deal with that AFTER merger” type answers left him seriously reconsidering his support for it, when he simply observed the REALITY: they do NOT know what they are doing – EXCEPT the AMPTP’s bidding, knowing, they THINK, the goodies that will be showered on them on the other side of merger, which they will be sorely disappointed to find, do NOT appear, not for THEM, and CERTAINLY not for the middle-class SAG actor, who, since UFS took over, has WITNESSED a steady decline: the loss of the ENTIRE TV space without a WORD spoken by David White (cause it’s part of “the plan” see?), give-aways and roll-backs galore, in the last two contracts – in a BOOMING business, that can EASILY support a FAIR financial liability to the people who MAKE THEIR PRODUCT.

    Good bye residuals, soon enough, they’re already on their way out, unless we FIGHT and, yes, if forced to – STRIKE, under the banner of a union that will NOT be intimidated by this cabal of A-listers, UFS-ers, NY and RBD-ers, AFTRA, OR the AMPTP. SAG actors STILL have the power to do that. Still! But don’t EVER take for granted how hard it will be, and how much WORSE the moderates in SAG and AFTRA have made it , by their give-aways to date, to get what is only FAIR, and protect the way of life for the middle-class actor, who already faces incredible odds – every single day.

  8. Professor, did SAG, DGA, and AFTRA receive a 20% increase in TV Theatrical residuals, too? Or, was this gain only achieved by the WGA?

    Also, fyi, it might be interesting to note that since only a very limited number of major studio motion picture blockbuster releases have been made available for screening in AMC’s theatres, it appears AMC has now decided to become a distributor of theatrical films and other (new media) content for their theatres. For example, apparently, AMC recently sold simulcast Philharmonic Orchestra concerts tickets for $22.


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