Writers Guild-Agent Talks Fail; New Code of Conduct to Take Effect at Midnight

WGA vs ATA - H - 2019

Writers will have to fire their agents at midnight Friday.

The Writers Guild of America on Friday rejected the latest proposal from the Association of Talents Agents and said in a letter to members that as the parties had not reached a deal, the guild’s new “Code of Conduct” would take effect at midnight.

“Members who are represented by agencies not signed to the Code of Conduct must e-sign” a termination notice firing their agents, said the letter. That is likely to happen starting tonight, or now, with up to 15,000 writers required to discharge their reps. Litigation is likely as well. The guild also posted an FAQ and the new list of signatory agencies.

“It is clear to us that we are not appreciably closer,” said WGA West president David Goodman at the meeting, in remarks released by the guild. “We are willing to continue meeting with you when you provide a proposal that truly addresses our expressed concerns, but our Friday deadline has arrived and we are moving forward with the implementation of our Code of Conduct and the enforcement of our WGA Working Rule 23.”

Said ATA president Karen Stuart in a statement after the meeting, “The WGA leadership today declared a pathway for compromise doesn’t exist. Agencies have been committed to reaching an agreement with the WGA but, despite our best efforts, today’s outcome was driven by the Guild’s predetermined course for chaos. The WGA is mandating a “Code of Conduct” that will hurt all artists, delivering an especially painful blow to mid-level and emerging writers, while dictating how agencies of all sizes should function. We came to the negotiating table in good faith and put forth comprehensive proposals providing choice, disclosure, transparency, shared revenue and a significant investment in inclusion programs. Unfortunately, not to our surprise, the WGA did not accept our offer, did not provide counterproposals and refused to negotiate further. We’re prepared to continue to fight for the best interests of writers and all artists.”

An afternoon meeting ended after about 45 to 60 minutes, according to agency-side sources, and would have ended within five minutes, as WGA West executive director David Young attempted to adjourn immediately after Goodman read his statement, according to the sources. Stuart persuaded the guild side not leave, urging that the parties negotiate, according to the source. In the course of discussion, Young allegedly accused the agencies of colluding with the studios to depress writers’ salaries. An agency executive asked Goodman if he agreed, to which he allegedly said, “I don’t know.” Young later compared the agencies to the Mafia and mentioned the RICO statute, a federal law used primarily against racketeers.

The WGA’s letter is below.

Fellow Members,

Last Saturday, at the agencies’ request, the Guild gave them six days beyond AMBA expiration to provide us with a fair offer.  They have not done so. Among other unacceptable proposals, the agencies insist on continuing their major conflicts of interest.  They insist on continuing to produce and be our employers. Their “offer” on packaging is to share 1% of their packaging fee with writers. Here is the response David Goodman presented this afternoon at the bargaining table to the proposal the ATA made yesterday.  

So there is no settlement. The membership voted by 95.3% to implement an Agency Code of Conduct if a negotiated settlement was not reached, and elected leadership set today as the deadline. As of midnight tonight, every agency will be required to become a signatory to the Code. And under WGA Working Rule 23, WGA Current members cannot be represented by agencies that have not signed the Code.  

So what happens now? In a strike situation, we all know that we are to refrain from crossing the picket line or writing for a struck company, and we’re asked to show our solidarity by picketing, which is the public and moral face of our dispute.

In this situation there are two actions required of all members: First, do not allow a non-franchised agent to represent you with respect to any future WGA-covered work. Second, notify your agency in a written form letter that they cannot represent you until they sign the Code of Conduct.

Linked here is the form letter, in plain and respectful language, which accomplishes this task. Members who are represented by agencies not signed to the Code of Conduct must e-sign the letter. This letter also protects you legally in case of any future commission dispute. The Guild will forward all letters en masse to the appropriate agencies in a few days. Many of you will also want to inform your agents personally. We encourage you to do so and to ask them to sign the Code.

We know you may have questions about exactly how to deal with your agent. We have linked here to a set of rules of implementation and FAQs that clarify how to deal with agencies that are no longer franchised. It is important that you read both the rules and the FAQ carefully. If you have additional questions about your situation, you should contact the Guild at: agency@wga.org. 

We know that, together, we are about to enter uncharted waters. Life that deviates from the current system might be various degrees of disorienting. But it has become clear that a big change is necessary.

We will not only stand together, we will stand up for each other, lean on each other. We can do this.

In Solidarity,

WGA-Agency Agreement Negotiating Committee
Chris Keyser, Co-Chair
David Shore, Co-Chair
Meredith Stiehm, Co-Chair
Lucy Alibar
John August
Angelina Burnett
Zoanne Clack
Kate Erickson
Jonathan Fernandez
Travon Free
Ashley Gable
Deric A. Hughes
Chip Johannessen
Michele Mulroney
Michael Schur
Tracey Scott Wilson
Betsy Thomas
Patric M. Verrone
Nicole Yorkin
David A. Goodman, President WGAW, ex-officio
Marjorie David, Vice President WGAW, ex-officio
Aaron Mendelsohn, Secretary-Treasurer WGAW, ex-officio
Beau Willimon, President WGAE, ex-officio
Jeremy Pikser, Vice President WGAE, ex-officio
Bob Schneider, Secretary-Treasurer WGAE, ex-officio

For more on this subject, visit THR‘s labor page.