NLRB process likely to drag on



If the WGA is hanging its strike hopes on a Hail Mary play involving the NLRB, guild brass might want to try novenas instead.

The National Labor Relations Board is expected to address soon 10 charges of unfair labor practices filed by the guild against studio companies on Nov. 1. But the federal agency likely will reveal that it is tagging the case, involving studio efforts to thwart mandatory script registrations, for further review by NLRB general counsel Ron Meisburg.

Several criteria prompting that move also might prove a drag on the guild's more recent -- and potentially much more important -- charge involving the studios' bolting contract talks Dec. 7.

The local NLRB office has accelerated its review of all of the charges. But the prospect of the agency's forwarding the guild's Dec. 13 filing to Washington amounts to one more obstacle for the writers to overcome in their quest to force studio reps back into contract talks.

At a minimum, local review is expected to take a month or more, and an eventual appeal of any decision against the studios could stretch the entire process even further.

The WGA claims that it represented an unfair labor practice when management negotiators refused to continue contract talks unless the guild withdrew certain demands, and guild leaders suggest that their NLRB filing could force studio reps back to the bargaining table. But it's increasingly clear that the protracted period over which the case will slog through NLRB processes makes that a distant hope at best.

What's much more likely during the next few weeks is that the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers will turn its attentions to early contract talks with the DGA. The directors are under contract through June 30 but recently expressed interest in early talks, barring a resumption of talks between the AMPTP and the WGA (HR 12/14).

The AMPTP has indicated that it looks forward to negotiating with the DGA to hash out issues on which it has made precious little progress with the WGA. Those include such matters as new-media jurisdiction and compensation.

On Tuesday, the DGA noted that it expects soon to have an informational meeting with the Association of Talent Agencies to discuss the directors' research on new-media issues, and a day earlier it announced a similar intent to share research with the WGA. The moves mostly were seen as DGA courtesy gestures as it prepares for negotiations with the AMPTP.

The studio group has refused to re-engage the WGA unless the writers withdraw demands for jurisdiction over reality TV and animation, the right to go out on sympathy strikes and mandatory arbitration for situations involving residual payments by vertically integrated companies.

"The AMPTP ... refused to bargain in good faith with the collective bargaining representatives of the employers writers by unlawfully refusing to schedule negotiations," the WGA charged in its NLRB filing.

"We're giving it the highest priority," NLRB spokesman Tony Bisceglia said of the agency's local review of the matter.

The WGA's charges involving script registrations trace back to the guild's strike rule requiring film and TV writers to register any scripts involving unfinished movie or television productions.

The guild hoped that the rule would prevent unauthorized writing during its now seven-week strike against the studios. But the studios claimed that such materials were company property and some ordered writers to disregard the demand.

That group of NLRB charges are much more peripheral to the ongoing contract impasse than the WGA's more recent filing over the studios' walkout from negotiations. Yet both disputes fit several criteria under NLRB guidelines for high-profile cases requiring a special handling by the agency's Washington-based general counsel, including the likelihood that an NLRB decision in the cases would substantially impact the regional economy.

The charges involving the guild's script-registration campaign appear particularly likely to get sent to Meisburg for further review as there is scant case history offering relevant precedent for such a case.