Lawmakers step in on writers strike



WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers began taking a more active role in the writers strike this week as a group of California Democrats led by the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee accused a pair network chiefs of dragging their feet.

In a letter to Walt Disney Co. president and CEO Robert Iger and Fox president and COO Peter Chernin, the lawmakers urged them to pick up the pace of the negotiations, sources who had seen the letter said.

Education and Labor chairman Rep. George Miller has been joined by fellow California Democratic Reps. Linda Sanchez and Lynn Woolsey.

"The purpose of our letter is to encourage you to seek a fair, just and swift resolution to this labor dispute," the lawmakers wrote.

While the lawmakers told the executives they were pleased to see that informal talks had restarted and they appreciated the complexity of the issues, they were becoming antsy.

"Given the House Education and Labor Committee's jurisdiction, we are exploring the need for further committee attention to this matter," they told the execs. "The impact of this strike on workers, the industry and our economy is simply too pronounced to ignore."

While the lawmakers gave no details of impending action, they could launch an investigation into issues surrounding the strike as it has a localized effect on the economies of America's two biggest cities, New York and Los Angeles, and a general effect as entertainment products are a valuable economic engine. They cited a study showing economic impact of the strike to L.A. alone is $1.6 billion.

"As the entertainment industry grows and changes, we hope that any new business models will allow for creative talent to grow with the industry," they wrote. "Maintaining the middle-class jobs that your industry provides is among our greatest concerns."

Lawmakers' increased interest in getting the strike resolved comes after members of the WGA East put on a mock debate to dramatize the issue. Idled writers for "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" and "The Colbert Report" performed in the event. Afterwards, WGAE officials met with Sanchez and Miller in an effort to get their support.

Formal contract talks between the guild and studios broke down Dec. 7 after the companies demanded that a half-dozen issues be dropped, including calls for the unionization of reality and animation shows. The guild rejected the demands. The WGA said Jan. 18 that its leaders would hold informal talks with studio execs about how to get back to formal negotiations.