WGA, SAG bosses climb Hill for state of unions address

Strike, media ownership on agenda

Hollywood labor leaders pushed their cause with lawmakers and the FCC on Wednesday as they sought to educate policymakers about the writers strike and the likelihood that the actors also will walk out.

WGA West president Patric Verrone and SAG president Alan Rosenberg told reporters that they weren't asking lawmakers or members of the FCC for any specific action but instead wanted them to hear about the issues from the workers' perspective.

"They need to know how their constituents are being treated," Verrone said. "It's important that the members of Congress that represent these districts know what's going on. I'm sure they've been contacted by the studio heads."

While Verrone and Rosenberg said they had not asked the lawmakers to conduct hearings on the strike or its underlying reasons, they said congressional or FCC inquiries into the labor unrest couldn't be ruled out.

Prominent lawmakers such as House Commerce Committee chairman Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.; telecommunications subcommittee chairman Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.; and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform — the principal investigative committee in the House — have reputations as dogged investigators.

When asked whether the studios could expect letters from those or other lawmakers, Rosenberg said it was a possibility.

Verrone and Rosenberg also met with Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's copyright subcommittee; and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's chief of staff John Lawrence.

"We're not asking for hearings," Verrone said. "We want the CEOs of the companies to get back to the bargaining table. As soon as they want to do that, we're available."

They also met with FCC commissioners Michael Copps, Robert McDowell and Jonathan Adelstein, a move the pair said was important because the consolidation of both media outlets and studios has changed labor relations in the entertainment industry, they said.

"It all fits in with media consolidation concerns," Verrone said. "When I got into this business 20 years ago, there were 30 companies to sell to, and now it's down to six."

On Tuesday, FCC chairman Kevin Martin released a plan that would make it easier for newspapers and TV stations to combine in the country's biggest markets. In the ownership proceeding, the guilds had pushed for a requirement that would set aside 25% of the broadcast schedule for "independent" programming.

Verrone said Copps was willing to push the issue. "The sense was that by not dealing with that issue, (Martin) was letting it fall by the wayside," Verrone said.

Although SAG hasn't gone on strike, Rosenberg said he wanted to assure lawmakers that both guilds had similar concerns about residuals from new media and other issues that caused the writers to strike.

"Their fight is our fight," he said.