Hold on WGA, AMPTP talks


Read more about the WGA/AMPTP talks

It's hurry up for one labor group and wait for another.

The WGA's film and TV contract talks have stalled until at least August because studio reps have told the writers that they first have to wrap an agreement with some blue-collar locals whose contract is about to expire.

The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers is scheduled to resume negotiations with Teamsters Local 399 and several craft unions on July 30-31. It's believed that an agreement is close for the drivers, electricians, plumbers and others, but nothing is guaranteed. Those workers' current pact is set to expire July 31.

In the meantime, the talks for movie and broadcast scribes are on hold.

"They have told us they will be unable to meet until those negotiations conclude," WGA West spokesman Neal Sacharow said Friday. "We've indicated to them (that) we are prepared to meet whenever they are ready to negotiate."

An AMPTP spokesman confirmed that the studio group said it can't meet again with the WGA until after its talks with the Teamsters group. This week is lost for any writers sessions because the AMPTP is preoccupied with prep work for the Teamsters talks, the spokesman said.

Despite optimism that negotiators can resolve lingering issues, the Teamsters took a strike vote Sunday in case things go haywire, a source said. The parties most recently met in late June, and it's believed that various pay and benefit issues remain on the table.

Meanwhile, after only two negotiating sessions with the WGA, the AMPTP has pulled at least one proposal from the table (HR 7/19). It will bear watching when those parties eventually re-engage whether the acrimony of last week's sessions has abated.

So far, much of the public debate in the writers' contract talks has swung on two points: an AMPTP call for a study on Internet residuals and a demand that writers allow producers to recoup certain costs on individual film and TV projects before paying any residuals in the future.

The former proposal was rejected and withdrawn. Writers also characterized the latter as a nonstarter, but the recoupment concept remains central to AMPTP proposals.

The current AMPTP-WGA contract expires Oct. 31. Some observers suggest that conditions might not be ripe for meaningful talks until WGA elections are held in September and parties know who will be in office in the months ahead.

In the race for WGAW president, incumbent Patric Verrone, a TV writer, is running against challenger Kathy Kiernan, a radio newswriter. At the WGA East, president Chris Albers is stepping aside, with TV writer Michael Winship facing TV newswriter Tom Phillips in a contest to succeed him.

Whenever the parties reconnect in the AMPTP-WGA talks, it's expected that the question of Internet compensation will remain an elephant in the negotiating room that can't be ignored. With the sides so far apart on the issue, one Hollywood negotiating consultant sees a chance they eventually will agree to extend their current contract.

"I think a one-year extension might be accepted," said Ivy Kagan Bierman, an attorney and labor consultant with the Los Angeles law firm of Loeb & Loeb.

The AMPTP might go for an extension if it could get the WGA to agree to a new-media study within that time frame, Kagan Bierman said. To secure the guild's OK of such an extension, the studio group could "offer some base level of compensation in connection with these various new-media uses," she said.

Specifically, the AMPTP could offer to create a minimum level of compensation for content created specifically for the Web and mobile devices, she said.

"I think there needs to be a study," Kagan Bierman added. "(But) there needs to be something that allows the WGA to agree to an extension."

SAG and AFTRA last year agreed to a two-year extension of their commercials contract to allow time for a joint study with the advertising industry on how talent should be compensated in light of burgeoning new-media entertainment platforms. The extension provided a 6% boost in basic pay in the interim and increases in employer pension and health contributions.