Agencies Call Writers' Plan to Deputize and Pay Managers "Unlawful Conduct"

Writers Guild WGA ATA Agents - H - 2019

The skirmish over managers acting as agents escalated with the ATA promise to "evaluate its legal options."

The Association of Talent Agencies on Thursday sent a letter to its membership criticizing the Writers Guild of America for "unlawful conduct" — namely, attempting to induce managers and attorneys to violate the California Talent Agencies Act by promising to reimburse them for any fees forfeited because of a violation of the TAA.

That law prohibits anyone but a licensed agent from procuring or negotiating employment for a motion picture or television writer, but a continuing skirmish in the WGA’s war on talent agents has been the guild’s attempt to create a workaround that would permit managers and attorneys to perform agent functions for writers rendered agentless by a WGA requirement that has led to thousands of members firing their agents en masse.

On March 21, the guild issued a public letter purporting to deputize managers and attorneys to perform agent functions, although it is questionable if that will be legally effective, a point that the ATA made to the guild.

In response, the WGA on Tuesday sent a letter to members stating that the guild itself will reimburse managers and attorneys for such services if the manager or attorney would otherwise go unpaid because of a violation of the TAA. And now the ATA has responded and said it will "evaluate its legal options." 

"The laws in question were enacted decades ago and have served throughout history as an important protection for artists, requiring that those who represent them meet minimum requirements and subject themselves to state regulation," reads the letter from ATA executive director Karen Stuart. "That the WGA’s leadership would now try to deny this protection to its own members, and literally pay third parties to violate a law that has protected writers for 80 years, should be of grave concern to all who believe unions should act in the interests of their members."

Adds Stuart, “The WGA leadership’s letter is just their latest tactic to flout established law and take for themselves uncharted power at the expense of not just agents, but of their members, and other stakeholders throughout the industry.”

Adding an additional element of confusion, two California Labor Commissioner decisions from 2013 and 2017 hold that even a licensed attorney may not negotiate the terms and conditions of certain entertainment workers’ employment contracts; only an agent can. And if that’s not enough, a case winding its way through the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals seeks to invalidate the TAA altogether.

The letter came a day after the WGA sued the top four talent agencies, but the missive makes no reference to that litigation.

The entire letter is below.

For more on this subject, visit THR‘s labor page.