Fightin' words from IATSE

Short lashes out at WGA over union's nixed talks

A simmering feud between two unions burst into full flame Tuesday as IATSE president Thomas Short accused WGA leaders of "irresponsibility and incompetence" for nixing early negotiations with producers for a new film and TV contract.

The flare-up follows a heated, if quiet, debate over the jurisdiction of some reality television jobs. A decision is still awaited from the National Labor Relations Board on whether the WGA or IATSE should represent work done by 12 former "storytellers" on the CW reality show "America's Next Top Model."

But first the NLRB must rule on the WGA's claim that the "Model" employees were fired illegally after striking for the right to join the WGA. IATSE already represents "Model" editors, and on Monday the union won the right to represent 60 production employees on the show (HR 12/5).

The dispute over early talks with producers involves the WGA's next contract covering movie writers and most primetime scribes. Nick Counter, the producers' lead negotiator with the Hollywood guilds, warned last month that the WGA's resistance to early talks on a film and TV contract could prompt studio and network execs to act as if a "de facto strike" were in effect and begin to slow production almost immediately (HR 11/28).

The WGA's current film and TV contract expires Oct. 31. Short warned that failure to convene talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers earlier than September, as planned by the WGA, would result in an actual labor strike in Hollywood.

"IA working families will not only lose their livelihoods but the work hours necessary to keep them eligible for health insurance, pensions and other IA benefits," Short said in a statement issued Tuesday.

In the same press release, the union criticized WGA leadership generally and a couple of executives in particular.

"(Short) has accused the leadership of the WGA West of irresponsibility and incompetence in their refusal to meet with the AMPTP and begin negotiations on a new contract in January, as they themselves proposed," IATSE charged. "Early talks would have shown willingness on the part of the WGA to avoid a work stoppage that will almost certainly result from delayed talks."

Short also lambasted the WGAW's organizing efforts on "Model," suggesting that they were "mishandled due to zero experience at organizing in the entertainment industry."

The press release added, "This inexperience, coupled with what Short sees as arrogance on the part of WGA president Patric Verrone and executive director David Young, will force studios and the networks to stockpile projects and result in a de facto strike next summer, affecting over 100,000 IA members and ancillary businesses nationwide."

The union said Short was rebuffed when he called Verrone on Nov. 28 to ask the WGAW leader to reconsider his nixing of early talks.

"The fact that the WGA backed out of their own proposed talks shows their complete and utter disregard for the vast majority of motion picture and television workers in the entertainment industry," Short said. "A small faction inside the WGA is determined to undermine the health and welfare of an entire industry."

This week, Verrone sent an e-mail to WGAW members suggesting that Counter's talk of a de facto strike was so much rhetoric and underscoring his intent to deliver a new film and TV contract without a shutdown. On Tuesday, the guild issued a response to the Short statement from earlier in the day.

"The 'de facto strike' threat is a boogeyman conjured up by the AMPTP to try to intimidate Hollywood unions into giving up their most effective leverage," WGAW exec director David Young said. "It is unfortunate that president Short has joined with the AMPTP in using this scare tactic.

"In 2004, the WGA did not conduct early negotiations and worked beyond our contract expiration date, without triggering a de facto lockout," Young continued. "WGA began negotiations on April 5, 2004 ? less than one month before contract expiration on May 2 of that year. We trust that the studios and networks will act responsibly again and not unnecessarily disrupt the work.

"It is ironic that president Short criticizes the WGAW for mishandling the 'America's Next Top Model' campaign," he added. "The 12 strikers at 'ANTM' lost their jobs because of the willingness of Mr. Short to have his union do struck work. This is contrary to the most basic trade union principles in which we believe."