No negotiating session, but Counter attack

Outraged by WGA's 'strike rules'

ORLANDO -- Management and labor reps didn't have a negotiating session scheduled for Monday in the WGA's contentious film and TV contract talks, but that didn't stop the parties from squabbling.

Since July, the guild has been meeting with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers to hammer out a new contract to replace a WGA pact set to expire Oct. 31. Most sessions have been marked by a notable lack of agreement on almost any issue, followed by separate assessments of the day's talks in which each accuses the other of bad intent.

Today, they just skipped the negotiating session.

"We are outraged by the WGA's 'strike rules,' filled with threats of fines, punishment and blacklisting," AMPTP president Nick Counter railed.

The outburst was prompted by recently formulated WGA regulations under which members taking on entertainment writing projects of just about any sort -- whether under guild jurisdiction or not -- could be punished by fine or banishment. IATSE international president Thomas Short criticized the WGA strike rules last week, saying they amounted to a threat against writers who might want to work on select projects supervised by the IA's Animation Guild.

The WGA is conducting a strike-authorization vote among its 12,000 members. The balloting, to be concluded by Thursday, seeks only the authorization to call a strike against studios and networks if such a move is deemed strategically beneficial at any time after the current film and TV pact expires.

"It is troubling and irresponsible that the WGA leadership spends so much time and energy on tactics, threats and attempts to intimidate anyone who doesn't agree with them and so little time and energy on trying to reach a reasonable labor agreement that would avert a strike," Counter said.

"We expect that all of our employees will live up to their contractual obligations, and we will vigorously pursue legal remedies if the WGA unlawfully tries to interfere with their ability to do so," he added. "We will aggressively defend and protect all our employees, including guild and union members, against any unlawful action taken by the WGA."

Counter claimed that the AMPTP has been "flooded with requests by our employees for information regarding their rights and options as members and nonmembers of the WGA."

Responding to Counter, WGA negotiating committee chair John Bowman suggested the AMPTP leave such matters to the guild to sort out.

"WGA members don't need management's help in determining the rules that would apply during a work stoppage," Bowman said. "Writers will make that decision democratically and for themselves. The AMPTP should worry less about our internal processes and more about avoiding a strike by negotiating a fair agreement."

The AMPTP and the WGA are scheduled to resume their negotiations at 10 a.m. today at AMPTP headquarters in Encino.