Phillips lobbies for change

Says new agreement is top priority

TV newswriter Tom Phillips said his top aim in running for WGA East president is securing new collective-bargaining agreements for colleagues at ABC and CBS, whose contracts expired more than two years ago.

A combined 750 newswriters and others have been working under terms of expired contracts for more than two years, and Phillips suggested in a statement Wednesday that leadership at the guild is partly to blame.

"These writers are in the third year without a contract, with no substantive talks since last year and none scheduled as of this writing," he said. "Yet the guild continues to claim that its strategy is working.

"It's not — because the guild has given the companies no incentive to negotiate, (and) guild leaders act as if they have no bargaining power, when in fact these companies depend more than ever on the unique skills of our members," the candidate added. "As president, I will do what it takes to mobilize and lead our members and restore normal working relationships with the networks."

Current WGAE president Chris Albers declined to seek re-election after a single two-year term, which expires Sept. 20.

A series of negotiations with CBS and ABC have been held under Albers, led by WGAE executive director Mona Mangan. Those included a brief session earlier this year with CBS, but no additional sessions with either network have yet been set.

Phillips, who has worked for CBS and elsewhere as a newswriter, is running against TV writer Michael Winship, whose credits include a stint with PBS' "Now With Bill Moyers." Both are members of the WGAE Council. Winship was unavailable Wednesday for comment on his campaign, but he was expected to circulate a candidate statement in the coming weeks.

WGAE candidates have until July 18 to present formal campaign statements for distribution by the guild. Phillips said he was distributing a statement Wednesday to underscore the seriousness of his campaign.

WGAE members will vote by mail or in person at a Sept. 20 membership meeting.

"Last year, I ran for council and won with a candidate statement that said, 'If you're happy with all the guild is doing for you, don't vote for me,' " Phillips said. "A year later, I am running for president, convinced that only a change from the top down can shake the guild out of its lethargy and denial and give it a chance to do its job."

He also included an endorsement of WGAE Council write-in candidate Jerome Coopersmith, a TV scribe.

"This union needs to change its whole attitude and approach to its members, starting from the first day, when a new member's experience begins with a $1,000 initiation fee in exchange for a card and a dues-paying schedule," Phillips said.

"Most members are completely out of touch with what the guild is doing, and it's not their fault. We need to provide full information, organization at the shop level and personal contact with members to encourage them to be active."

At the WGA West, which has a Sept. 17 membership meeting, incumbent president Patrick Verrone is facing off against radio newswriter and past Verrone ally Kathy Kiernan.