Amid Talks, Agents Say Writers' Plan Would Throw Industry Into "Chaos"

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The WGA is in a self-described "threatening phase," say agents after a guild-agency meeting ended on the eve of balloting.

Another half-day of talks ended Tuesday afternoon with scant progress between the warring Writers Guild of America and talent agents, with the Association of Talent Agents issuing a statement decrying what it called the guild’s lack of commitment to negotiations until after a scheduled five-day vote that will begin Wednesday and is expected to hand WGA leaders the leverage need to tear thousands of writers from their agents, if necessary.

The vote will be a referendum on whether the guild can impose a “Code of Conduct” on agents that bars packaging fees and affiliate production, two lucrative practices that major agencies are loath to abandon. Large agencies are not expected to sign that code, meaning that writers will be ordered to sever relationships with them unless a WGA-ATA deal is reached by April 6, when the current agreement expires.

“Last week, [WGA executive director] David Young laid out his three-pronged negotiating strategy,” reads the ATA statement. “He said that we’re still in phase two — the threatening phase. It is unfortunate that they have not moved past this phase and that they are continuing to keep to their long-term strategy of not having any meaningful negotiations until after the vote. We hope that WGA leadership will get serious about collaborating on an agreement that protects the best interests of all writers and artists.”

Adds the statement, “We hope this happens before WGA’s proposed plan throws our industry into chaos, disproportionately impacting the most vulnerable WGA members.”

The statement says that the WGA presented nothing at Tuesday’s session, the seventh between the parties, other than acceptance of two ATA proposals, one regarding diversity and the other regarding establishment of a committee to monitor the compliance with any agreement between the two sides. Key issues still outstanding are packaging, production and sharing of information between agencies and the guild.

After this article was posted, the WGA issued a statement that said,

“We continue to work to reach a negotiated settlement. We have made five important moves over the last weeks in response to the concerns of the agencies and of our members. Today we agreed on a proposal regarding inclusion and made adjustments to our proposal on information sharing that were intended to address agencies’ concern about writer privacy. Still, progress has been frustratingly slow.

"In response, the agencies ignored everything we presented, including our offer on Independent Film Packaging, and instead issued an ultimatum – essentially the same ultimatum that they first stated on February 26th – namely that, as a precondition to any further negotiation, we must first compromise on their demand to continue with conflicted practices. That we cannot and will not do.

"Right now, seven weeks into these discussions, the agencies will not even agree to give the Guild information that would help writers get paid on time. They have stood on their principle of “choice,” which is, in reality, a demand to negotiate writer-by-writer, rather than acknowledging the Guild as the representative of all writers and their proper negotiating partner.

"We hope to make a deal before expiration, but we won’t be intimidated by another threat from the agencies. Their “your Guild won’t negotiate” stance is a calculated negotiating ploy, but it will not substitute for serious conversation about the damage inflicted on writers by conflicted practices. We stand ready to talk.”

Earlier in the day, the WGA revealed details of its plan for April 7 — the day writers may be ordered to fire their agents en masse — asserting that a patchwork of online resources, managers, attorneys, replacement agents and writer-to-writer networking will enable scribes to continue to find jobs and negotiate terms without their customary representatives, albeit with bumps in the road.

3/26/2019 6:41 p.m. updated with WGA statement

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