Contract Talks Starting Early

Feb 2, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Labor issues are looming large in Hollywood as contract negotiations approach for the Writers Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists. All sides are seeking to avoid a repeat of a work slowdown and production disruptions that plagued negotiations in 2001.
The opening salvos between above-the-line labor and film and TV producers are being prepared even as the WGA is still feeling aftershocks from a pair of embarrassing, high-profile controversies.
President Victoria Riskin was ousted in January after an independent investigator ruled she was not eligible for the office at the time of her election. Ms. Riskin’s replacement, former guild VP Charles Holland, has since been accused of lying about his past. Mr. Holland had said he served in an elite U.S. special forces unit and attended college on a football scholarship, but a Los Angeles Times investigation poked holes in those claims. Last week the WGA West board voted 10-6 to keep Mr. Holland on board, despite the accusations.
“A majority felt [the accusations] should be weighed against Mr. Holland’s long and unbroken record of ethical and respected professional behavior,” the WGA said in a statement. “Ultimately, it was the prevailing view of the board that given Mr. Holland’s unique set of skills as an attorney and business affairs executive in combination with his writing background and years of service to the guild, that he should remain as president.”
The board also appointed former guild President Daniel Petrie Jr. to Mr. Holland’s former VP position.
Cheryl Rhoden, WGA West’s assistant executive director, said the controversies will not weaken the guild’s position during negotiations. “The reality is the Writers Guild is a strong union and has always debated issues publicly and has never been weakened by that debate,” she said.
Talks Begin
SAG and AFTRA, meanwhile, appeared to take the WGA turmoil as an opportunity to step up their own negotiation schedules. Guild representatives and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers will begin talks this week, even though the WGA contract expires first.
By reversing the traditional order of engagement, the actors guilds prompted speculation that they are not seeking to act in concert with the writers, as has been the case in the past. This has raised concern among writers that SAG and AFTRA may not be on board with their most pressing concern-sharing in revenue from DVD sales.
In other labor news, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees reached an agreement with three talk shows. The three shows are “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “Steve Harvey’s Big Time” and SoapNet’s “Soap Talk.”