WGA Sets Contract Negotiating Committee As Potential Writers Strike Looms

The WGA East and WGA West have appointed the members of their negotiating committee for upcoming contract talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers – a showdown that could trigger the first writers strike since 2008. The guilds’ current contract expires May 1, 2023.

WGA West Executive Director David Young will serve as chief negotiator, with former WGA West presidents David A. Goodman and Chris Keyser serving as co-chairs. Patric M. Verrone, who was president of the WGA West during the 100-day writers’ strike of 2007-08, will be one of the 24 members of the negotiating committee.

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In August, during the run-up to the WGA West’s board elections, several of the candidates who are now serving on the negotiating committee addressed a wide range of issues that could trigger a strike.

Angelina Burnett, who won a seat on the board and now serves on the negotiating committee, wrote in her campaign statement that “As we head into what may be a conflict negotiation, the board needs as many skilled and experienced leaders as are willing to serve.”

She then listed a number of gains the members need, and for which they’ll be willing to strike. One of those potential strike issues is better minimum and over-scale compensation.

“There seem to be more writers than ever working at or near minimum,” she wrote. “While the majority of members continue to work above minimum (aka scale), that ‘over-scale’ ceiling has lowered for all but our most successful. This downward pressure has been evident in the data for some time, but now we’re also dealing with inflation. A dollar buys less than a year ago.

“Traditionally, the Guild bargains a 3% increase in minimums every contract cycle, but we do not have a direct mechanism to raise the over-scale ceiling. We delegate that responsibility to agencies. What the Guild can do is create favorable conditions for agents to raise it as high as possible. The 2014 and 2017 MBA (Minimum Basic Agreement) negotiations created some of those conditions through option and exclusivity provisions, and span protection in tv. We then spent three years properly aligning agency incentives.

“With incentives aligned, the Guild can now make a powerful move to create the conditions for a higher ceiling. We can dramatically lift the floor and double minimums across the board.”

“Will it take a strike?” she asks. “Yes.”

“Should we consider striking for this? Yes.”

Residuals and profit participation are also worth striking for, she wrote. “Ensuring we are fairly compensated for the value we create is a fundamental requirement of the MBA but the streamers’ black box handling of data makes it difficult, if not impossible. Whether in collectively negotiated residuals (which fund health and pension funds across the guilds/ crafts), or individually negotiated back end points, every creator and unionized person employed in film and television is cheated by this secrecy…While it is worth noting that the streaming residual gains we made in the 2020 MBA haven’t kicked in yet due to a grandfathering clause baked into the negotiating ‘pattern’ (agreements made by other unions that take power and leverage to depart from), incrementally improving the residuals formula we currently have can only get us so far.

“At some point, the companies must be forced to open the black box and share data with unions and profit participants. Will it take a strike? Almost Certainly. I hold a smidge of hope there are nuances here that would lead them to concede with only the threat of a strike. I wouldn’t bet on it, though. Should we consider striking for this? Yes.”

Eric Haywood, who won reelection to the board and will also serve on the negotiating committee, wrote in his campaign statement:

“As writers, we face a host of issues that require our immediate, collective attention: a pushback against the industry’s increasing reliance on mini-rooms, a drastic overhaul of streaming pay and residuals, an end to demands for free work, and the return to a system that allows lower- and mid-level writers the opportunity to be on set and in post to produce their scripts.

“In the upcoming MBA negotiations, we can’t afford to hope that the multi-million-dollar corporations that produce and distribute TV shows and movies will suddenly come to their senses, realize they have ‘enough’ money in their bank accounts, and share the wealth with writers out of the goodness of their hearts. To the contrary, we should expect absolutely no gains for which we aren’t prepared to fight tooth and nail. Hopefully, this won’t require a strike, but if the success of the agency campaign has taught us anything, it’s that there’s nothing we can’t accomplish with a unified membership that empowers its leadership to show no fear at the negotiating table.”

Ashley Gable, who also won reelection to the board and will serve on the negotiating committee, was a named plaintiff in the guild’s epic legal battle against the Big Three talent agencies. In her campaign statement, she wrote that when she first ran for the board in 2018, “two major concerns were the then-upcoming agency campaign and the 2020 MBA negotiation. I worked my behind off on the agency campaign, and I am proud of our win. But the MBA negotiation, which was going to be so important, ended up being circumscribed by the pandemic and our subsequent inability to mount a credible strike threat. Although what we were able to gain from the companies was substantial given the circumstances (paid parental leave!), it turns out that our most critical issues were left unaddressed until next year’s negotiation. I am asking for your vote so that I can tend to this unfinished business and fight for more gains for writers.”

She added: “The agency campaign showed the immense strength of writers’ collective power. I believe that power was crucial in giving us what leverage we had in the 2020 MBA negotiation. Although it was rage-inducing not to make gains specific to screenwriters and other groups increasingly disrespected by the companies, it was not surprising given the position we were in. As a wise person once told me, in any negotiation you don’t get what is fair, or reasonable, or right. You get what your power merits.

“In the upcoming negotiation, we must apply our power to put more money in writers’ pockets. We must negotiate responses to the effects of vertically integrated streaming, mega-mergers, the convergence of theatrical and SVOD (subscription video on demand), shorter TV seasons, the increasingly common scourge of the mini-room and subsequent assault on TV producing fees. Writers’ pay across all platforms is being driven down to scale. We need a richer streaming residuals formula. We need script parity across all platforms. We need minimums for comedy/variety content on SVOD.

“We need a lot of things, and we will have to marshal all our power to get them. The 2020 negotiation in a pandemic was unlike any before it. In 2023, it’s possible things won’t be entirely ‘back to normal’ either. How we communicate with members, how we maintain solidarity, how we demonstrate power, even how we conduct a negotiation – all these things may be different. I have faced new and unknown challenges in the agency campaign, which also was unlike anything before it. I think I can be of use to writers in 2023. I ask for your vote.”

In the August run-up to the WGA East Council elections, Erica Saleh addressed other issues of concern to writers. Having been reelected and now serving on the negotiating committee, she wrote in her campaign statement: “I know that our Guild can often feel episodic-TV-centric, especially when it comes to the MBA. We need to fight for the issues unique to Comedy Variety (lack of minimums on SVOD and discounts on long-term work – truly WTF) and Feature writers (endless pitch processes, free work, one-step deals – also WTF) and not let them be dismissed as fringe issues. It should be a priority to educate all of our members about the issues facing all of our members, so that we can be unified—and stronger—in all of our fights together.”

The other members of the negotiating committee include:

John August

Kay Cannon

Yahlin Chang

Robb Chavis

Adam Conover

Travis Donnelly

Hallie Haglund

Eric Heisserer

Greg Iwinski

Luvh Rakhe

Danielle Sanchez-Witzel

James Schamus

Tom Schulman

Mike Schur

David Shore

David Simon

Nicole Yorkin

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