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Guest Commentary: Both Sides in Strike Must Bargain in Good Faith

Nov 25, 2007  •  Post A Comment

I have been following this first-of-its-kind play-by-play media coverage of the Writers Guild of America strike in TelevisionWeek and the general media with pathetic fascination—as though I am passing a car wreck I can’t look away from or following the tribulations of yet another self-destructive celebrity.
As we enter the strike’s third week, it has become clear—at least to me—that both sides, as is evident from their strutting to date, are indeed very “well-endowed.”
For example, the writers have proven that they will indeed strike, even if it costs them money in the short run. They are willing to stand together and are even willing to potentially take their profession down with them, if need be, over what they believe in. And if others’ jobs are affected, that’s what happens in a labor action. Fair enough; we get it and respect it.
The studios and networks, meanwhile, have proven they will not just roll over and yield to demands, and are willing to shut down negotiations and instigate layoffs to prove that they’re in no rush or panic to fill the gap of not having scripts. If it sends audiences to other media outlets and further waters down their audience share, so be it. Again, fair enough.
So in the contest of which side can pee the furthest and longest, please understand that the rest of the world has already called it a draw, we’re all quite impressed; let’s leave it at that so that the parties can return to the negotiating table today in good faith.
Good-faith negotiating is based on the assumption that neither side will get everything it wants and that it’s just a question of time before a compromise is reached. It’s all about integrity. The writers make a vital contribution to entertainment that the studios and networks use to fill their financial coffers, and this should be respected with appropriate and reasonable compensation.
As we all know, 13 weeks can be a very long career depending on the economic climate. It’s the ability to see long-term compensation for one’s successes that makes it possible for a writer to stick it out during the tough times between jobs.
On the other hand, without the studios and the networks, many of the productions that pay writers wouldn’t be financed, produced or distributed, so the studios and networks deserve their share of respect and remuneration as well. I don’t think there’s anything in these statements that can be disputed.
As such, both sides deserve to be heard and negotiated with in a good-faith manner, and that means not looking for how much you can take/save, but how much is reasonable. Ask yourselves what it will take for fairness to reign supreme and for an entire industry to return to work.
In the long run, there is much we can have taken away from us by others and there is much we have to lose at the hands of others, but there is one thing nobody can take away from us: our integrity. It’s something we give up or maintain at our choosing, and the cost of doing so can be high indeed.
I know that individuals on both sides have the capacity to be mensches and give each other the benefit of the doubt—mdash;they just have to want to do so. If one side gives in on something, take it in good faith, don’t take advantage of it, and be willing to yield something in return.
You’re all good people and neither side can afford to have this be a prolonged war. The end result won’t just be the fallout of people losing incomes; it will be the further dilution of an appetite for scripted television on the part of a TV audience that has already proven its willingness to watch other things and to turn to other media to do so.
Don’t think you can win this battle if the war means destruction of the battlefield that is where you live and work when the war is over.
Please show good faith at the table today. There are many innocents counting on both sides to do so as quickly as possible. n
Larry Deutchman is a writer, producer and nonprofit executive.

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