WGA Negotiations Planned for Monday But Schedule Uncertain

WGA Strike February 2008 - Getty - H 2017
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The WGA has said it will strike as soon as the contract expires if there’s no new deal, but that doesn’t preclude a change of heart that could result in an extension to allow continued talks.

A rare Sunday bargaining session between studio and Writers Guild negotiators ended after just a few hours with the promise of continued negotiations the next day but no time actually set for the talks, as the Monday night (12:01 a.m. Tuesday) contract expiration bears down on an anxious town.

The WGA has said it will strike as soon as the contract expires if there’s no new deal, but that doesn’t preclude a change of heart that could result in an extension to allow continued talks.

The bargaining session, which was scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Sunday, broke off by 3:30 according to one source — 5 p.m. according to another — with the WGA announcing that they would resume talks Monday. The guild said it would notify the companies as to what time to resume, presumably after guild negotiators meet separately to discuss the offer from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

The WGA and AMPTP studio alliance had no comment for this story.

Sources told The Hollywood Reporter that the new proposal from the AMPTP includes infusions into the guild’s troubled health plan of up to nearly $90 million. As is customary, some of that amount would come from diversions from what would otherwise be increases to wage minimums. That puts the guild to the choice of slicing into wage increases for its lowest paid members in order to support a benefit plan available only to those making at least about $38,000 per year. Other portions of the infusion would come from separate cash, however.

The companies have also raised the dollar ceiling that determines which writers could benefit from their proposal to pay overages when writers work longer on episodes of short order series, an issue referred to as “span” because the crux of the matter is the time span that a writer spends working on a script.

Regarding holds and exclusivity, the companies have increased the dollar ceiling applicable to children’s programming but not otherwise changed their proposal, which builds upon 2014 contract language that requires companies to pay some writers a holding fee for much of the time that they are held idle between seasons or, alternately, release the hold.

However, the parties are said to remain far apart on at least two issues: script parity — the WGA demand that scripts for all platforms be subject to the same wage floors regardless of production budget — and “outsize increases,” the WGA insistence that a variety of categories of writer get extra-large salary increases.

Apparently as a result of that last position, the AMPTP is now offering the writers 2.5 percent annual basic wage increases, which is up from their previous 2 percent offer but still not at the 3 percent level afforded the DGA in that union’s deal, reached several months ago.

A tradition of parallelism across entertainment unions called pattern bargaining all but guarantees that the companies will eventually offer the writers 3 percent too, but the fact that Kabuki theater is still playing out even as expiration looms is not a positive sign.

The writers struck for about one hundred days in 2007-08, costing a wide swath of the California economy an estimated $2.1 billion to $2.5 billion — figures that suggest that, with inflation, a strike this year could cost the economy about $200 million per week.

Within the industry itself, some crewmembers, writers, actors and others would likely lose their homes if a strike persisted, and audiences would be driven off linear channels and onto digital platforms where an abundance of new and library content beckons. But many writers call the last strike a success and may see another walkout as the way to get what they say they need and deserve.