Writers Guild Exec Says No Deal on Studio Talks, Calls Alliance "Despicable"

WGAW

The obstacle appears to be a separate issue regarding health plan eligibility.

Negotiations between the Writers Guild of America and major motion picture and television studios, which seemed set for May 11 at the WGA's request after a coronavirus-caused delay, were thrown into uncertainty by an email from the WGA appearing to reject the studio alliance's acceptance of the WGA's proposed date.

If that seems confusing, it is. The WGA had proposed that the parties exchange proposals May 1 and begin talks via the week of May 11, with the current contract to be extended to June 30 from its current May 1 expiration. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers responded that it accepted those proposals. But in response, the WGA sent a one-line email, which was obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.

"There will be an agreement when both sides agree there's one," said WGA executive director David Young to AMPTP president Carol Lombardini. "You people are despicable."

The apparent hang-up that led to the blunt response? The guild had also suggested that the WGA Health Fund extend eligibility to participants who would otherwise lose coverage through the end of the year because they fail to meet the required earnings threshold. The AMPTP had responded that it would discuss that proposal internally.

Eligibility is a matter that would generally be handled by the trustees of the Plan (a board that is 50-50 management and labor), not during collective bargaining. But it may be the reason for the WGA’s refusal at this time to agree to its proposed dates.

Lombardini replied to Young on Monday.

“Your statement is incorrect — we already have agreement regarding [dates] and we intend to proceed on that basis,” she wrote. “It is our intention to proceed based on that agreed-upon approach and request that you advise us immediately if the Guild does not intend to do the same.”

Lombardini called the Health Plan matter a “separate issue” and wrote, “We can only assume that you are upset that the AMPTP did not immediately agree to your separate request that the Producer-WGA Health Plan eligibility provisions be amended to extend eligibility for anyone who does not meet the eligibility requirements. While we are willing to consider this issue as part of our negotiations, this is an issue, as you are well aware, that ultimately must be decided by the Trustees of the Plan after looking at the financial implications to the Plan as well as a number of other issues regarding who should be eligible for such an extension. Certainly we, as the bargaining parties, can and should weigh in on these questions and we are willing to discuss them with you either as part of the negotiations or separately.”

“On April 17th, the WGA asked the AMPTP to approve an extension of health care coverage through the end of the year for writers whose eligibility is impacted by the economic fall-out of the coronavirus pandemic,” guild president David A. Goodman said in a statement responding to a request for comment. “The WGA fund has sufficient reserves to cover this contingency. The extension is the right thing to do, and writers’ employers should not have to think twice about ensuring that the people who have made their businesses successful have access to quality, uninterrupted healthcare.”

Talks had been planned for March 23, but bringing together 50 to 100 negotiators in a room wasn’t feasible during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and so bargaining did not commence as scheduled. The WGA initially indicated it might work under an expired contract until a new agreement could be negotiated, but the parties then moved towards an extension and May talks.

But they’re evidently not there yet, and that may set the industry even further on edge.

“It is critical to get the negotiations started both because of the impending expiration date and so that when it is time to resume production, the industry is in a position to do so immediately,” wrote Lombardini, “without concern that another shutdown might be imminent due to the absence of a contract and the possibility of a strike.”

April 23, 12:08 p.m. Updated with WGA spokesman’s response.

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Read the email exchange, below.

From: Carol Lombardini
Subject: RE: Agreement on Extension of 2017 MBA and Dates for Exchange of Proposals and Commencement of Negotiations
Date: April 20, 2020 at 2:12:26 PM PDT
To: David Young

Dear David,

This is in response to your e-mail of April 17th below. 

Your e-mail is confusing because it states that “there will be an agreement when both sides agree there’s one.” I assume that is in response to my April 17th letter in which I noted that we have agreement on the issues of the date to which the contract is being extended, when proposals will be exchanged and when negotiations will commence. If so, your statement is incorrect — we already have agreement regarding all three of these issues and we intend to proceed on that basis. Specifically, you originally requested a September 1, 2020 expiration date. The AMPTP rejected that proposal and countered with a proposal of a June 30th expiration date, an exchange of proposals on April 15 and an April 20th start date for negotiations. On April 15th, you agreed to the June 30th expiration date and proposed an exchange of proposals on May 1 and a start of negotiations on May 11th. We agreed to all of those points in my letter to you of April 17th. In sum, we have agreement on the extension of the MBA and the process and dates for commencing negotiations. It is our intention to proceed based on that agreed-upon approach and request that you advise us immediately if the Guild does not intend to do the same.

Secondly, your e-mail gratuitously states, “[y]ou people are despicable.” You give no reason or context for this ad hominem attack. We can only assume that you are upset that the AMPTP did not immediately agree to your separate request that the Producer-WGA Health Plan eligibility provisions be amended to extend eligibility for anyone who does not meet the eligibility requirements. While we are willing to consider this issue as part of our negotiations, this is an issue, as you are well aware, that ultimately must be decided by the Trustees of the Plan after looking at the financial implications to the Plan as well as a number of other issues regarding who should be eligible for such an extension. Certainly we, as the bargaining parties, can and should weigh in on these questions and we are willing to discuss them with you either as part of the negotiations or separately. However, the need to deal with the issue of participants who may lose eligibility as a result of the COVID-19-related shutdowns is a separate issue from the need (and legal obligation) of the bargaining parties to commence overall negotiations for a new MBA. It is critical to get the negotiations started both because of the impending expiration date and so that when it is time to resume production, the industry is in a position to do so immediately, without concern that another shutdown might be imminent due to the absence of a contract and the possibility of a strike.

In sum, we look forward to exchanging proposals on May 1st and commencing negotiations on May 11th. Should you wish to do so, we are separately agreeable to discuss with you the Health Plan eligibility issue and we suggest that any such discussion include the Co-Chairs of the Plan as well as its CEO.  

Best regards, Carol 

-----Original Message-----
From: David Young
Sent: Friday, April 17, 2020 6:23 PM
To: Carol Lombardini  
Subject: Re: Agreement on Extension of 2017 MBA and Dates for Exchange of Proposals and Commencement of Negotiations

There will be an agreement when both sides agree there’s one. You people are despicable.