WGA Boards Endorse New Studio Deal, Set Membership Vote

Ballots are due April 29; ratification of the deal is expected.

The governing boards of the Writers Guild -- the WGA West Board and WGA East Council -- have unanimously endorsed the deal reached with the studios last week and have sent it on to the membership for a vote. Ratification is expected.

"We vigorously support ratification of this contract," said an email from WGA West president Chris Keyser and WGA East president Michael Winship. "While it is not all that we hoped for -- no contract ever is -- in key areas writers have made significant gains."

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Key terms regarding wages, new media residuals and pension and health mirrored the terms reached by the DGA in November and ratified in January. In addition, the WGA achieved a doubling of the theatrical "script publication fee" and a provision addressing the options and exclusivity holds that are often placed on episodic television writers while networks decide whether to renew their series. Those holds have kept writers on ice, uncompensated but unable to accept other series jobs for increasingly long periods, as series orders have grown shorter and shorter.

Under the new deal, the there will be two limits on the provisions a company may negotiate in the personal services agreement of an episodic television writer who earns less than $200,000 per contract year: (1) the agreement may not require that the writer be exclusive to the company except during periods when the writer is being paid for his or her writing services; and (2) the company may not hold a writer for more than 90 days under a negotiated option agreement without paying a holding fee of at least 1/3 of the scale minimum for the writer’s services.  If the company chooses not to pay the holding fee, the company must allow the writer to accept an offer of other series employment; or if the series has been renewed, it may exercise the option and put the writer back to work.  These provisions take effect January 1, 2015. On January 1, 2016, the threshold will increase by 5% to $210,000 per season.

Other key terms are as follows:

* Wages: Annual 3 percent wage increases, up from 2 percent increases in the previous three-year contract. (The wage increase will be 2.5 percent in the first year, with a 0.5 percent increase in pension and health contributions.)

* Residuals: Increased residuals bases, presumably including for network primetime reruns, an area in which residuals had been frozen in the previous contract.

* Basic cable: "Outsized annual increases" (5 percent per year)  for one-hour basic cable series after the first season.

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* Subscription video on demand (SVOD): Minimum terms and conditions for high-budget new media made for subscription video on demand (SVOD). The WGA email added that this provision includes nearly the full complement of television separated rights (a writer-specific gain with no correspondence to the DGA deal).

* Streaming media: Increased residuals in streaming new media.

* Script publication fee: Doubles from $5,000 to $10,000. It’s a fee that’s payable for any theatrical script produced under WGA jurisdiction, even if the script is not published; in effect, it’s a production bonus.

Even as the guild endorsed the new deal, it looked to the future. “While we are rightfully proud of this deal, there are areas of unfinished business that remain to be addressed in future negotiations,” said a message from the negotiation committee, which identified two areas for future improvement:

* Basic cable: "We have made a step toward parity for basic cable writers, but it is only a partial step: Writers on half-hour series are excluded from the outsized increase, and even with the increase the one-hour rates still lag behind broadcast minimums."

* Streaming media: "(W)hile the residual for streaming video will go up during the term of the contract, the increase does not reflect the explosive revenue increases the Companies have seen from this market."

Ballots may be cast online (the deadline is 9:00 p.m. PT/12:00 a.m. ET, April 29, 2014), by mail (for those requesting a paper ballot) or at membership meetings in New York and Los Angeles on April 29, 2014. The current contract expires May 1.

Next up is SAG-AFTRA, whose deal expires June 30. Talks have not yet been set, but there may be an announcement on the matter coming out of the union's board meeting this weekend.

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