Writers Guild Members Endorse Priorities List for Studio Talks

WGAW
WGAW president David Goodman

With double the turnout of a similar 2017 vote, an energized membership gave thumbs up to a "Pattern of Demands" for negotiations.

Members of the Writers Guild of America have endorsed an outline of priorities for this spring’s studio negotiations, the union said Friday in an email to members. The vote was about 91 percent (3,028 votes) to nine percent (308).

That’s a slightly lower margin than three years ago, where the vote was 96 percent to four percent, but more than twice as many members voted this time: 3,336, vs. 1,626 in 2017. That may signal an activated membership, which the guild has been vigorously organizing since it began its campaign against the major talent agencies last April.

“The 2020 MBA negotiations will take place in the context of an expanding media industry that is experiencing record profits,” said the email, signed by respective WGA West and WGA East presidents David A. Goodman and Beau Willimon. “The broad goal of our Negotiating Committee is to build on the gains achieved in past contracts and to ensure that writers receive their fair share of the proceeds generated by the content they create.” The email adds that members can provide feedback by email or at meetings in March.

The negotiating outline, called a Pattern of Demands (read it below), unsurprisingly contains such items as “improve residuals for reuse markets” and “increase minimum compensation in all areas.” But other points are more specific.

One item, “strengthen protections for writers employed and compensated on per episode basis,” signals a continuation of the guild’s efforts in previous rounds to address an issue called “span” that arises in the context of the short seasons typical of streaming platforms.

Meanwhile, another goal — “require signatory companies to negotiate only with agents franchised by the WGA” — carries the agency fight to studio turf. But the studio organization, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, already rejected this so-called “Collins clause” demand last year, when the WGA sought to amend the 2017-2020 guild agreement before its expiration.

In a separate item, the guild is seeking to expand the new media programs that are subject to contractual minimums. That may mean lowering the budget thresholds at which minimums kick in.

The WGA agreement expires May 1, and negotiations are not yet scheduled. But the Directors Guild of America announced Tuesday that it would begin formal bargaining on Monday. That probably means that the DGA and AMPTP have already reached a tentative understanding on the contours of a deal, albeit two months later than in recent previous cycles. The holdup was understood to be streaming residuals, as the unions are seeking improvements in SVOD and AVOD reuse fees.

If the DGA’s formal talks do yield a deal, as is expected, there would be great pressure on the WGA to accept parallel terms regarding residuals, new media coverage and perhaps also regarding increases in minimums. If the writers guild does follow whatever pattern the DGA sets, that would leave the span and Collins clause items as probably the most nettlesome writer-specific items on the table — and lessen the likelihood of a strike, a concern that is currently coursing through industry circles. (In other respects, the Pattern of Demands reflects ongoing WGA concerns that may receive attention as well.)

But it’s also possible that the WGA might reject the strictures of so-called “pattern bargaining” and seek a better deal than whatever the DGA obtains. It’s simply too early to tell.

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WGA Pattern of Demands:

COMPENSATION AND RESIDUALS

  • Increase minimum compensation in all areas.
  • Expand made-for new media programs subject to MBA minimums.
  • Address issues for writing teams.
  • Address inequities in compensation.
  • Enhance protections against uncompensated work.
  • Improve residuals for reuse markets.

PENSION PLAN AND HEALTH FUND

  • Increase contributions to the Pension Plan and Health Fund.

PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS AND EMPLOYMENT PROTECTIONS

  • Strengthen protections for screenwriters.
  • Strengthen protections for comedy-variety writers.
  • Strengthen protections for writers employed and compensated on per episode basis.
  • Provide for paid family leave for writers.
  • Enact anti-discrimination measures, including the prevention of harassment and promotion of pay equity.
  • Require signatory companies to negotiate only with agents franchised by the WGA.
  • Modify and expand all arbitrator lists.