Silence not golden for WGA talks


That deafening sound coming from the big negotiating room at AMPTP headquarters in Encino?


In theory, with a Basic Crafts agreement secured and out to membership votes, reps from the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers and those from the WGA can resume collective bargaining.

In practice, nothing is proving quite that easy.

Billed as a brief hiatus for the crafts talks, it now appears that the break in negotiations with the WGA might stretch beyond Labor Day. Blame a surfeit of logistical challenges and a shortage of compelling reasons for re-engaging, sources said.

Members of Teamsters and four other largely blue-collar unions are expected in the next couple of weeks to ratify a new three-year agreement with the AMPTP (HR 8/2). So with that Basic Crafts contract wrapping up, the AMPTP formally notified the WGA on Friday that its negotiators are ready to reconvene the talks with the writers.

"The AMPTP sent a letter the WGA a letter saying, 'Give us a date for a new negotiating session,' " AMPTP spokeswoman Barbara Brogliatti said. "The WGA has a harder time (because) they have a number of people who are volunteers. So we have to find out for what dates they have available, as a courtesy to them."

Indeed, several members of the guild's 17-person negotiating committee must work around other professional obligations, and some members are from out of town. So if the AMPTP were to suggest holding a negotiating session this week, it's dubious whether the WGA could muster a quorum of its committee to attend.

Yet there has been no official word on how much time might be needed to convene the guild committee. The parties last met July 16 and 18, before breaking off to allow the AMPTP to focus on its Basic Crafts talks.

On Monday, WGA West spokesman Neal Sacharow first said he had "no update" regarding when a third bargaining session might be held. Pressed for a further response on the AMPTP's seeking a date for resuming talks, Sacharow relayed a brief statement from WGAW executive director David Young.

"We've made fair and reasonable proposals and are ready to sit down with the AMPTP whenever they are ready to negotiate," Young said.

Sacharow declined to elaborate on the situation -- though various others did, speaking anonymously.

One school of thought predicts that the WGA will drag its feet until after its officer elections are completed in late September. WGAW president Patric Verrone is running for re-election against KNX-AM newswriter Kathy Kiernan, and TV writer Michael Winship is running against TV newswriter Tom Phillips to succeed outgoing WGA East president Chris Albers.

"Patric Verrone's not focused on the elections; he's focused on the negotiations," a veteran WGA watcher suggested. "He doesn't want anything to change the perception of, 'We're in the middle of a major negotiations, so let's not change horses in midstream.' "

Another line of logic reasons that WGA negotiators are loathcq to hold substantive talks much in advance of the Oct. 31 expiration of their current film and TV contract with the AMPTP, believing guild bargaining power rises as the date approaches. Many believe the WGA is unlikely to strike if no new pact is secured by then, believing the guild's negotiating clout will increase as the calendar draws closer to the June 30 expiration of SAG and DGA contracts.

"The WGA is clearly stalling," a labor-side observer said. "What else are they going to do -- go out on strike Nov. 1? That would be a banzai charge."

Meanwhile, back at WGAW headquarters in Los Angeles, guild leaders eventually must mull their strategic next step at the bargaining table.

So far, the WGA has rejected -- with little elaboration at the bargaining table -- a pair of separate proposals put forth by the AMPTP. Those included a since-withdrawn call for a study of new-media compensation that would have delayed expanded Internet residuals for three years.

After the WGA balked at that proposal, AMPTP demanded the guild focus solely on an even more controversial proposal to delay all future residual payments while studios recoup certain costs on individual film and TV projects. That also proved a nonstarter with the guild, but management negotiators requested a detailed response to the "recoupment" proposal.

WGA negotiators said they would need some time to present such a reply, then talks broke off for the now-protracted hiatus. So it remains to be seen whether the WGA begins resumed talks by detailing its response to the recoupment proposal.