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WGA Tells Members to Stop Writing for Comedy Central

The union says the network's production arm falsely told writers on at least 40 projects that their work was guild-covered: “No other major entertainment company has treated writers and their guild so cavalierly."

The WGA West on Monday issued a stop-work order against Central Productions, the production unit of Comedy Central, telling members in a letter that the company repeatedly had misrepresented to writers that projects were guild-covered when they were not.

As a result, the guild has invoked its working rules and ordered members not to work on Central shows without verifying that the work is in fact under a guild contract. The guild is in the middle of negotiations with Central for an overall deal.

“We are writing to alert you,” said an e-mail to members, “that you must refrain from writing for Central Productions ... without first contacting the WGAW contracts department to ensure that the writing is guild-covered.”

A spokesperson for the Viacom-owned network did not address the allegations but said, “We’re continuing to move forward on our negotiations with the Writers Guild and are hopeful that we’ll come to an agreement soon.”

According to the guild, in 2007, writers on five Central shows organized to gain WGA coverage. The company refused to sign an overall deal with the guild but signed individual Letters of Adherence for each of the shows.  From 2008-11, the guild signed agreements covering 37 additional productions, resulting in WGA coverage of all nonanimated shows on Comedy Central.

In late 2011, the guild says, it learned that 15 Central projects had been written without a guild contract in place, though the writers “were led to believe that the projects were guild-covered.” After Central representatives pledged to change these practices, Letters of Adherence were negotiated retroactively for the 15 projects.

“No other major entertainment company has treated writers and their guild so cavalierly,” the e-mail says.

As a result, the guild began negotiations with Central during the summer for an overall deal to eliminate the need for project-by-project Letters of Adherence. The guild says it will be seeking “industry-standard residuals formulas,” among other things.

The e-mail is signed by guild president Chris Keyser, vp Howard Rodman, secretary-treasurer Carl Gottlieb and executive director David Young. It ends by acknowledging that “it is never easy to ask a fellow member to stop working” and adds “while we might rightly say to Central Productions, 'Shame on you,' what we say instead is: no more. Without a contract, there will be no work. And we must say that together -- all of us, no exceptions -- as a guild.”

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