Writers Rebuffed in Attempt to Enlist Studios to Fight Agents

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The guild wanted studios and producers to refuse to do business with talent agents not signed to a WGA agreement, but the studios and producers refused to agree.

In an unusual move, the Writers Guild of America attempted in a Feb. 4 letter — not previously disclosed — to enlist motion picture studios and producers in its fight against talent agents.

The guild had asked to reopen negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers in order to add a contract clause to the union collective bargaining agreement that would prevent studios and producers from doing business with talent agencies that are not signed with the WGA.

Such a clause would have given the WGA enormous leverage in its battle to force new terms on talent agents — in particular, to prohibit packaging fees and affiliate production. But on Monday, The Hollywood Reporter has learned, the AMPTP rebuffed the guild’s request.

“The Companies have concluded that agreeing to your proposal would require them to participate in a group boycott of talent agencies that do not meet with Guild approval,” says a letter from the AMPTP that THR obtained. “We believe that doing so would subject them, the WGA and individual writers to a substantial risk of liability for antitrust violations, including claims for treble damages. The Companies would also be at risk for violation of federal labor laws as well as state laws.”

The letter then declines to reopen negotiations as requested, and says that the companies “remain hopeful that the WGA and the talent agencies will reach a successful resolution of their negotiations for a new WGA/talent agency agreement.” The existing agreement between the studios and the guild expires May 1, 2020, and negotiations for above-the-line studio master agreements are expected to kick off with the Directors Guild of America in December if history is a guide (no announcement has been made).

Asked for comment on the AMPTP letter, a WGA spokesman said, “The elected leadership will have a response after meeting tonight.”

Meanwhile, guild members will vote for five days starting on Wednesday on whether to authorize union leadership to impose a new "code of conduct" on agencies if no negotiated solution is reached by April 6, when the current agreement terminates. A strong yes vote is likely. For that reason, observers do not expect the WGA to engage with the agencies on key issues until next week, but another bargaining session, the seventh between the parties, is nonetheless set for Tuesday. There has been some movement on subsidiary issues, and sources acknowledge an improved tone in the room.

March 25, 1:21 p.m. Updated with WGA response.
March 25, 2:25 p.m. Updated to clarify possible December DGA-AMPTP negotiations.

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