AMPTP: Negotiations with WGA break down

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UPDATED 7:37 p.m. PT Dec. 7

Contract talks between the WGA and studio reps have broken down again.

The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers blamed the latest break-off on the guild's refusal to remove certain demands from the bargaining table. Those include a call for first-time jurisdiction over reality TV and animation writing, the management group said.

"We're puzzled and disheartened by an ongoing WGA negotiating strategy that seems designed to delay or derail talks rather than facilitate an end to the strike," the AMPTP said in an end-of-day statement after Friday's bargaining session.

Another major sticking point is a guild demand for new contract language allowing writers to go out on sympathy strikes with other guilds.

"Their quixotic pursuit of radical demands led them to begin this strike and now has caused this breakdown in negotiations," the AMPTP said. "We hope that the WGA will come back to this table with a rational plan that can lead us to a fair and equitable resolution to a strike that is causing so much distress for so many people in our industry and community."

The impasse is the second since the WGA and AMPTP launched their contract talks July 16. The first came Nov. 4 and resulted in the writers strike being launched the next day.

When talks resumed last month, CAA partner Bryan Lourd replaced the federal mediator by taking over as an ad hoc mediator. Definite progress was made on issues such as compensation for content streamed over the Internet.

But the past couple days have been less productive, and there were signs earlier Friday that the latest session wasn't going well at all. Swapping claims and assigning blame to one another is nothing new for the WGA and the AMPTP, but this time they did so while negotiators were still at the bargaining site.

The guild, which began the swap of statements, said it wanted to address "disturbing rumors" that management was about to bolt the negotiations. The guild issued a second statement, once the break in talks was announced by the AMPTP. It acknowledged the management demand to withdraw its call for new jurisdictions and suggested several other areas also remain problematic.

"We received a similar ultimatum through back channels prior to the discussions of Nov. 4," WGA negotiating committee chair John Bowman said in the Friday night statement. "At that time, we were assured that if we took DVDs off the table, we would get a fair offer on new-media issues. That offer never materialized.

"We reject the idea of an ultimatum," Bowman said. "Although a number of items we have on the table are negotiable, we cannot be forced to bargain with ourselves. The AMPTP has many proposals on the table that are unacceptable to writers, but we have never delivered ultimatums."

One of the other big stumbling blocks appears to be the guild's demand for mandatory arbitration when studios' licensing arrangements for Internet businesses are called into question.

Bowman said such language -- which the guild has dubbed its "Fair Market Value" proposal -- would serve as "our protection against vertical integration and self-dealing (by the studios)."

Bowman added that AMPTP president Nick Counter has informed the guild, "When you write us a letter saying you will take all these (objectionable) items off the table, we will reschedule negotiations with you."

WGA West president Patric Verrone, a TV animation writer, did not attend Friday's bargaining session but instead joined a protest at FremantleMedia's headquarters in Burbank. The WGA has been trying to organize Fremantle reality TV shows.

WGA East president Michael Winship did attend the Friday negotiating session. WGA West exec director David Young is the chief negotiator for the WGA.

IATSE international president Thomas Short issued a statement after the impasse was announced, and as is often the case recently he was critical of WGA leaders.

"I don't believe the WGA ever intended to bargain in good faith," Short said. "They are destroying a lot of lives in the process. As a result of their irresponsible and irrational behavior, the number of IA members who have lost work is fast approaching 40,000 people ... in the U.S. and Canada."

"Unless and until the WGA leadership starts behaving responsibly -- which is unlikely -- not only wages, health insurance coverage and pension benefits will be lost. Homes and businesses will be lost, too," he said.
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