Writers Guild's TV/Theatrical Deal Caps Unusual Bargaining Cycle

Mike Windle/Getty Images; Toby Canham/Getty Images; Charley Gallay/Getty Images
From left: Carol Lombardini, David Young and David A. Goodman

Wage, benefit and residuals improvements followed the pattern set by the Directors Guild and mirrored those of SAG-AFTRA.

The WGA, with WGA West executive director David Young as chief negotiator, reached a June 30 agreement on a three-year TV/theatrical deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, topping off a triennial negotiating cycle like none in recent memory — even though ultimately the guild's wage, benefit and residuals improvements followed the pattern set by the Directors Guild and mirrored those of SAG-AFTRA.

The DGA usually reaches an agreement in December in advance of a June 30 expiration, but this time the directors' pact didn't arrive until March 4. This signaled that achieving a deal on streaming residuals had been difficult as the industry pivots to platforms like Disney+ and HBO Max.

And it heightened fears that the WGA — under the leadership of Young and president David A. Goodman — or SAG-AFTRA, or both, might strike. But what people plan, viruses discard, and just days after the DGA closed its deal, the economy shut down.

After some uncertainty, SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP, led by president Carol Lombardini, negotiated a deal by videoconference. A source close to the performers' union said it would have initiated a strike "were it not for the pandemic." That June 10 agreement is out for expected ratification, with ballots due July 22.

Some SAG-AFTRA members oppose a key quid pro quo: dramatically improved streaming residuals at the cost of reduced broadcast syndication residuals. Whether WGA members will be as perturbed is unknown. Meanwhile, other WGA gains include paid parental leave, a first that the other guilds may seek next cycle. But funding for paid leave meant tepid basic wage increases for the writers. Aggregating wage and benefit increases, though, each of the three guilds saw a 3.5 percent increase in contract year one and 3 percent in each of years two and three.

A source says the WGA deal also increases eligibility for "span protection" (overage payments when a television writer labors more than 2.4 weeks per script) and for protection against holds and exclusivity. Those incremental improvements pale against the wish lists the guild shared with members, but the union conceded that "the ongoing global pandemic and economic uncertainty limited our ability to exercise real collective power." 

This story first appeared in the July 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.