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A former organizer for the WGA West, David Young first assumed executive director chores at the guild on an interim basis after six-year veteran John McLean was ousted in September 2005. He was appointed permanently Aug. 3, drawing a chilly response from those who will be on the management side of talks in the next round of contract negotiations. With the WGA’s film and TV contract expiring in October, The Hollywood Reporter’s labor editor Carl DiOrio spoke with Young about guild challenges.
The Hollywood Reporter: You have said that the WGA would be willing to begin negotiations for a new film and TV contract no earlier than next summer. Can we pin that down to a month?
David Young: We would be prepared to go in on that as early as July and have communicated that. We are likely to do better via traditional deadline bargaining. The companies save a lot of money via early negotiations by avoiding an unnecessary inventory buildup — what’s called a speed-up. Most of what’s produced during that speed-up period isn’t used and amounts to wasted capital. So we would need an appropriate incentive to go in early.
THR: Management negotiators already are predicting acrimony in the next round of contract talks and claim the WGA has the most militant leadership currently. How do you feel about being cast in the role of a Hollywood labor-community tough guy?
Young: It’s our job to represent our members’ vital interests, and that’s what we intend to do. And if folks want to cast that in another light, that’s just done for propaganda purposes.
THR: Turning to a more immediate issue, the WGAW is having a rather public tussle with IATSE over which union can best represent some employees who struck “America’s Next Top Model.” What does this say about the ability of the guilds to cooperate for mutual benefit?
Young: We’ve certainly had our differences with them, which is unfortunate. When all is said and done, what matters most is that both of our memberships have a common interest in organizing and bettering our collective bargaining agreements, and we will remain focused on that. I think that there are areas where cooperation with some of the other guilds have been much more effective. So we’ve had some bumps there, and we will try to work through them with the IATSE.
THR: Why has the Writers Guild not had more success organizing reality TV employees?
Young: It’s because we have taken a broader, industrywide approach. We have not sought to represent employees on a show-by-show basis but in fact are pushing for an industrywide deal. So there are not many incremental gains to be had, and if we end up succeeding we’ll have a big success. This kind of a strategy is a bigger-risk, bigger-reward approach.
THR: You come from an organizing background. Does that give you a different approach to labor negotiations than someone with an entertainment industry background?
Young: The fundamentals are the same, regardless. If anything, it shades my approach toward one that emphasizes membership involvement. The power of this membership is in their own participation in the process, and I insist on that every step of the way.
THR: You mentioned a couple of months back that you were in negotiations for your personal employment contract. Have you concluded that process?
THR: Any chance of getting details, which ultimately will be disclosed anyway?
Young: You’ll have to wait.
THR: Back on the subject of film and TV contract talks, what represents a bigger priority — establishing rich residuals for Internet reuse or improving the formula for DVD residuals?
Young: Well, that is a question for the membership to decide, when we ask them to weigh in on our contract demands. I would say anecdotally right now people are more concerned about the future, which tends to put more emphasis on Internet downloads than DVD. But DVD is still a very significant concern.
THR: OK, give us your prediction. One year from now, what will people saying about negotiations between the WGA and the production companies?
Young: That depends on the companies. If they want to make a fair deal that gives writers a fair share of what they create and respects the right to organize, I’m sure we’ll be fine. I’ve been positively impressed with the people I’ve met on the management side. My prediction would be that we will have an agreement in hand a year from today.
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