Writers Guild Cancels In-Person Meetings as Contract Talks Near

Writers Guild of America Building - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of WGA West

The precautionary move follows a similar but more extensive SAG-AFTRA decision the day before.

The Writers Guild of America West on Tuesday morning notified its members that it was canceling a large in-person membership meeting scheduled to be held that evening at the Hollywood Palladium and that in lieu of such meetings, the negotiating committee would share information by email over the next two weeks “as a precaution against COVID-19 (coronavirus).”

The WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are scheduled to begin talks March 23, but bargaining usually involves about a hundred negotiators in close quarters, some of whom fly in from New York or other locations. With people increasingly reluctant to travel by air or be in close quarters with others as health officials urge social distancing, those factors put the negotiations in serious question and raise the possibility that the contract, set to expire May 1, might simply be extended instead. The WGAW and the AMPTP had no comment.

Tuesday’s move by the writers follows a SAG-AFTRA decision on Monday to cancel most in-person meetings and non-essential travel. The performers' contract expires June 30, but whether they will negotiate — in which case mid-May would be a likely start date — or extend is also unknown.

Meanwhile, as previously reported, the Directors Guild of America board unanimously approved a deal reached with the AMPTP and will be sending it to members for ratification ahead of that union’s June 30 contract expiration. Approval is expected.

But even having a contract or extension won’t insulate any industry participants from a production shutdown, should the virus force that eventuality. Industry observers had predicted a rocky negotiating cycle all along, thanks to the technological change inherent in the industry’s pivot to streaming. But no one foresaw that a pathogen would emerge to spark a global epidemic — not just of disease, but also of fear and economic disruption.