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.