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WGA Ballots on the Way for Ratification Vote on Studio Deal

Ballots can be returned in person at meetings on April 26 or via mail by April 27.

The WGA deal reached last month is on its way to the membership for a ratification vote; ballots are in the mail. That’s evident from the guild website, where a member link provides access to the ratification booklet and related materials, but the guild has continued its mostly sotto voce approach this year by making no public announcement of the mailing.

The ballots are due back to the WGA by 9 a.m. on April 27. Members can also vote in person at meetings in Los Angeles and New York the day before.

Ballots were accompanied by a statement from negotiating committee co-chairs John Bowman and Billy Ray explaining why negotiations had been completed in less than three weeks of talks: “an economy still recovering from a deep recession; an economic pattern set in negotiations with other unions; and the willingness of the Companies to address the Guild’s most pressing economic need, regarding the solvency of the pension plan.”

The materials also included a cover letter from WGA West president John Wells and WGA East president Michael Winship that said, “We highly endorse ratification of this contract” and noting the unanimous recommendation of the negotiating committee, WGA West Board and WGA East Council.

The new accord with the AMPTP follows the pattern set by deals in the last few months with the actors and directors. The new three-year deal provides for 2 percent annual wage increases and a one-time 1.5 percent increase in employer contributions to the guild’s pension plan. SAG, AFTRA and the DGA received 2 percent annual increases also, and a one-time increase in employer contributions to pension and/or health plans.

The writers’ deal also includes a 20 percent increase in pay TV residuals – i.e., the residuals payable when a pay TV show such as Showtime’s Dexter is rerun on pay TV. That gain is less dramatic than the percentage may suggest, however, since those residuals are a small, fixed amount, in contrast to more lucrative formulas provided in the directors and actors agreements.

In a move that the letter acknowledged as “a concession,” the new agreement provides that network primetime residuals will be frozen at current rates for the duration of the contract. Such a move is unusual: primetime residuals usually increase when minimums do.

The new deal also includes a 2 percent increase in first year ad-supported Internet streaming of television programs. The DGA, SAG and AFTRA received a corresponding increase. In the case of the WGA, the dollar amounts involved are $16 to $32 per year.

Like the other unions, the WGA also accepted a shift from first-class air travel to new rules favoring business class and coach.

The WGA did not achieve any significant improvement in workplace conditions such as issues related to “sweepstakes pitching.”

Included with the ratification materials was a letter from WGA member Ari B. Rubin entitled “Divide and Conquer.” Although Rubin accepted the deal as the best obtainable under the circumstances, he decried what he called the studios’ strategy of “divide and conquer,” and colorfully compared it to a strategy the British army used in North Africa during World War II.