After five months of vowing to stand firm against the Hollywood production community, the Writers Guild of America last week reached a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and major broadcast networks for a new three-year contract that failed to make gains on several key demands.
The agreement left some writers disheartened after the WGA’s leadership repeatedly and publicly made the case for increasing DVD residuals and unionizing reality television. WGA West President Daniel Petrie Jr. based his re-election campaign last month on maintaining a hard line against the AMPTP.
After the announcement, John McLean, executive director and chief negotiator for WGA West, said, “I’m not doing this again.”
Asked whether the revolving-door politics at the WGA-which has had three presidents during the past year due to various controversies-contributed to the stresses at the negotiating table, Mr. McLean was incredulous.
“Are you asking if this was easy to do under three different presidents?” he asked. “If they told me coming in what I was going to go through, I would have said, `Are you crazy?”‘
The writers have been working without a contract since June 2, when WGA members rejected a previous offer from the producers.
The announcement came two weeks after the Directors Guild of America reached a lightning-fast agreement with the AMPTP that left writers without a contractual precedent that favored their key issues. The WGA’s plans to hold off resuming talks with producers until the Screen Actors Guild negotiations next year were left by the wayside when both sides returned to the table last week.
As expected, the AMPTP did not yield on the DVD issue. Nor did writers make contractual gains in unionizing reality television, though the WGA said the two sides made “significant headway developing a mutual understanding … [that] will lead to future gains for writers.”
As with the directors, the WGA did win an increase of about $40 million in funding to cover its medical plan over four years, increases in some minimum payments and pay TV residuals. However, most of the demands approved by the writers before negotiations began were not met.
The WGA’s strategy wasn’t necessarily flawed, one production community source said. “If the DGA had chosen DVDs as their issue, the WGA would have been huge winners,” the source said. “They were hoping if they made enough noise, the DGA would have gotten riled up. It was a smart strategy; it just didn’t work.”
The new pact represents a $58 million gain for the WGA, up from the $32 million gain the AMPTP presented as a “final offer” June 1. In 2001, the WGA’s contract represented a $42 million gain.
WGA members will vote on the new deal in November. If approved, it takes effect Nov. 1 and runs through Oct. 31, 2007.
The contract contains rollbacks for TV writers in some cases. The agreement gives networks the ability to rerun two of the first three episodes of a new scripted series to generate viewer interest without paying writer residuals. “The DGA agreed to that also,” Mr. McLean noted.
“We think we made some significant headway,” Mr. McLean said. “On DVDs, we’re disappointed. But if you’re a negotiator you have to have goals and priorities and ask yourself, `Is this deal acceptable and is it a good deal for our members?’ And it is.”
A spokesperson for the AMPTP said the organization will not comment on the offer until the contract is put to a WGA vote. The AMPTP next turns its attention to a contract with the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists before moving on to SAG.