Friday contract talks end in frustration

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Just when things were going so, well, not horribly.

Negotiators for the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers held a brief bargaining session Friday, the second this week and only the sixth since talks toward a new film and TV contract began July 16. But unlike Thursday's business-like atmosphere, Friday's talks ended abruptly by early afternoon and were followed by the issuing of vituperative statements in which each camp laid out their respective frustrations.

"We have had six across-the-table sessions and have been met with only silence and stonewalling from the WGA leadership," AMPTP president Nick Counter said. "We have attempted to engage on major issues, but no dialogue has been forthcoming from the WGA leadership."

The WGA was succinct in its public message.

"While the WGA remains determined to make a fair deal, at this stage of the negotiations the AMPTP is still stuck on its rollback proposals including profit-based residuals," guild negotiators said. "Our members will not stand for that. The entertainment industry is successful and growing like never before. Writers, whose creativity is at the heart of that success and growth, are committed to sharing in it."

But Counter complained that "WGA leadership apparently has no intention to bargain in good faith (and) is hidebound to strike."

The WGA is currently conducting a strike-authorization vote, with balloting to extend until Oct. 18. If a majority of its 12,000 members give leadership the request authority, guild brass could to call a strike whenever strategically most advantageous.

Still, even an overwhelming approval of the strike-authorization request won't necessarily result in a strike being called immediately. In fact, many observers believe it could be well after the expiration of the parties' contract on Oct. 31 before the WGA considers a strike action seriously.

That's because the DGA and SAG are under contract until June 30, and the WGA would have less clout going on strike solo than if it were to sync up with other above-the-line guilds. On the other hand, the rhetoric has been mostly war-like from the start of talks, and the parties' most recent public statements would seem to leave little reason for optimism.

"We are farther apart today than when we started and the only outcome we see is a disaster engineered by the present leadership of the WGA," Counter said. "Today's session was cut short when WGA's negotiators (decided) to go home at 11:30 a.m. after our negotiators tried to get them to discuss the WGA's proposals."

The WGA noted they expect to return to the bargaining table Tuesday. But Counter said it's unclear what can be accomplished at this point.

"The WGA leadership refuses to engage in any sort of discussion, much less bargaining, on either our proposals or theirs," the AMPTP president said. "We have presented empirical data to support our positions. Our presentations are met with no questions, interchange or any attempt to come to an agreement."

One thing that's rattled management-side negotiators is what one well-placed source described as an unprecedented reluctance by any one on the labor side of the table to speak except WGA West executive director David Young.

Young is the guild's former head organizer, and his first-time presence in the talks -- which aim to nail down a new three-year contract for movie writers and most primetime scribes -- has always been seen as a wild card. The WGA's negotiating committee is chaired by John Bowman, but staff and elected officials also sit in on sessions, with Young considered the guild's chief negotiator.

The guild's Friday statement was attributed to Bowman and negotiating committee members including Susannah Grant, Neal Baer, Bill Condon and Shawn Ryan.
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