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WGA Members Still Paying For Last Strike!

March 27, 2017 (17:06) | 2016 | By: Arlin Miller

It’s been more than nine years since the last WGA strike ended, with another now looming, but guild members still are paying for it. According to the WGA West’s most recent report filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, 45 writers still owed the guild $392,883 in strike loans from the 100-day 2007-08 walkout, as of the guild’s fiscal year ending March 31, 2016.

One writer still owed more than $30,000; six others owed more than $20,000; seven owed more than $10,000; and 10 others owed more than $5,000. Some of those loans, which are secured by future residuals, might have been paid down during the past year, as they have been every year since the last strike. One writer who received a $71,000 strike loan finally paid it off in full last year.

But many other loans remain outstanding. According to the guild’s financial reports, $1 million in strike loans have been repaid since the 2007-08 walkout, when the guild loaned $2.86 million to 189 writers. As of the guild’s latest report, it still is owed $1.86 million in strike loans.

As the guild noted in its latest financial report filed with DOL: “Strike loans were made to members in good standing who suffered direct financial hardship due to the strike that commenced on November 5, 2007, and ended on February 13, 2008, as well as due to an earlier 1988 strike.”

The WGA East, meanwhile, doesn’t have any outstanding loans from the last strike, when it issued strike loans to 31 members totaling $227,000. Six of those loans totaling nearly $10,000, however, were “written off as uncollectible,” according to a WGA East financial report.

Both guilds now are preparing to ask their members for strike authorization after negotiations for a new film and TV contract broke off Friday. And if a strike comes on May 1, when the current contract expires, they’ll no doubt be asked to issue a new batch of strike loans to members who will suffer direct financial hardship.

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Humm…I wonder if those struck against suffered any financial hardships…NAW!  But, but, but…

Arl

The Ol’ SAG Watchdog

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Did the Writers Guild Sandbag the Studios With Short Talks?

March 26, 2017 (15:33) | 2016 | By: Arlin Miller

The WGA brought a complex and expensive agenda to the negotiating table but allotted only two weeks, perhaps intending a quasi-impasse to tee up a strike authorization vote.

As the current Writers Guild of America talks were being planned months ago, the union told studio negotiators that two weeks of negotiations would be sufficient to achieve a deal, two knowledgeable sources told The Hollywood Reporter on Saturday. But when talks began, the guild presented a complex and expensive list of proposals that couldn’t possibly be handled in such a short time period.

The mismatch suggests that the union may have intended the resulting quasi-impasse, in order to tee up the strike authorization vote that the negotiating committee called for Friday evening.

“There was not a chance in the world with the WGA demands and the short period of time they gave management that anything could get done,” says an informed industry observer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. “I think this was calculated to get a strike authorization vote.”

To some, the WGA’s approach, if intentional, might look like bargaining in bad faith, but others may commend it as a smart tactical move. After all, a union’s two most powerful weapons are the threat of a strike — and an actual strike.

The latter may fall into the category of “this is going to hurt me as much as ­— or more than —­ it hurts you,” but the threat of a walkout is less painful, at least if one overlooks the panicked phone calls and migraine headaches all across town.

Asked about its motive for the two-week period, the guild defended the timeframe but didn’t disclose its reasons.

“The companies have not responded to some of our key proposals, and two weeks should have been enough time to do that,” said the union in a statement. “Maybe they want to take it down to the wire.”

That seems unlikely, since the WGA, not the studios, would generally benefit from nail-biter negotiations that bump up against the May 1 expiration of the current three-year contract.

As previously reported, the AMPTP said in a statement, “The WGA broke off negotiations at an early stage in the process in order to secure a strike vote rather than directing its efforts at reaching an agreement at the bargaining table.”

According to a second knowledgeable source, weakness in the affiliated health plan is the only issue the union originally raised when proposing that two weeks of negotiation would be sufficient. But the issues the WGA actually raised over the past two weeks appear complex and, in many cases, expensive, even in the guild’s own telling:

*A decline in TV writer wages due to short seasons (see THR’s graphical report). The guild says it “made a comprehensive proposal … [that] included a limit on the amortization of episodic fees, addressed … problems with Options and Exclusivity … [and an] outdated schedule of weekly minimums,” as well as a proposal that “address[ed] script fee issues ­ in basic cable and streaming ­ but also in the case of Staff Writers.” Translation: That means the WGA wants TV writers to make more money in this new deal.

* A decline in screenwriter wages, ongoing since the 2007-08 WGA strike and the national recession that followed. The union says it asked for “modest gains for screenwriters, most particularly a guaranteed second-step for writers earning below a certain compensation level.”

* Trouble at the union’s health plan, which has recently been running deficits. The union did not describe its proposal, but did detail the companies’ counteroffer.

* Concern, too, at the union’s pension plan, whose “healthy” status is based on an assumed 7.5 percent annual return, which presumes a continuing bull market. The union did not describe its proposal.

* The Directors Guild recently received 3 percent annual increases in minimums. The WGA sought the same.

* The DGA recently received increases in the residuals formula for High Budget SVOD programs. The WGA sought the same.

* The WGA’s pay TV residuals, negotiated in the 1980s, are inferior to the DGA’s and SAG-AFTRA’s. When a show made for a pay TV channel such as HBO is rerun on pay TV, the DGA gets a fee based on the number of pay TV subscribers, subject to a ceiling, and SAG-AFTRA gets a percentage of the license fee, but the Writers Guild gets only a fixed dollar amount per year. According to a source, the WGA sought to reopen this 35 year old issue.

* The union wage scales for comedy variety writers are low. The union did not describe its proposal.

* The union asked for “a rational policy on family leave” but did not describe its proposal.

* Diversity is an ongoing issue. The union did not describe its proposal.

That’s more than a two-week meal, especially when one counts the usual days consumed with posturing, as well as a Wednesday that consisted solely (in one source’s telling) of an hour or two discussion of family leave.

Says the industry observer of the strike authorization vote, “this was destined.”

3/26/2017 3:00 pm PT Updated with bullet point regarding pay TV residuals

Hmmm…

Arl

The Ol’  ‘Short Response’ Watchdog

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WGA “Broke Off Negotiations,” Producers Claim As Strike Vote Looms!

March 25, 2017 (12:51) | 2016 | By: Arlin Miller

One day before negotiations originally were scheduled to end between the WGA and AMPTP, the labor tension in Hollywood is at a 10-year high. As the scribes now confirm Deadline’s exclusive of earlier today that a strike-authorization vote has been called, the producers shot back this evening with claims of bad faith from the other side of the table.

“The WGA broke off negotiations at an early stage in the process in order to secure a strike vote rather than directing its efforts at reaching an agreement at the bargaining table,” an Alliance of Motion Picture & Television spokesman told Deadline tonight. “Keeping the industry working is in everyone’s best interests, and we are ready to return to negotiations when they are.”

However, Deadline has learned that the AMPTP believed earlier that week that further talks would not be productive. The producers’ reps did not respond to requests for comment on this matter.

Earlier tonight, the WGA’s negotiators sent a letter to membership calling for a strike-authorization vote. It would not be a vote to strike but to authorize the guild’s board of directors to call a strike if further talks fail to produce a deal.

A strike vote had been looking like a real possibility this afternoon, according to Deadline’s Dominic Patten and David Robb, with one source with intimate knowledge of the ongoing talks saying, “That’s the way the wind is blowing.” A strike-authorization vote among senior WGA officials takes the situation to a precipice Hollywood has not really been at since 2007. Talks had been scheduled to continue Saturday, but that appears to be off.

Negotiations with the AMPTP on a new three-year film and TV contract began March 13 in an atmosphere some described as “tense,” while others called it “cordial.” The current contract expires May 1, so there is time to make a deal.

Erik Pedersen contributed to this report.

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More info as it Breaks!

Arl

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WGA Negotiators Call for Strike Authorization!

March 24, 2017 (23:38) | 2016 | By: Arlin Miller

 

March 24, 2017 | 07:26PM PT

Leaders of the Writers Guild of America have asked their 12,000 members for strike authorization, following two weeks of negotiations.

The WGA leaders have asserted that the talks with the Alliance of Motion Pictures & Television Producers, which launched March 13, have been unproductive and contain two major rollbacks in the guild’s health plan. The AMPTP accused the WGA of breaking off the talks.

“First, they have demanded that we make cuts to the plan – $10 million in the first year alone,” the WGA negotiating team said in a letter to members. “In return, they will allow us to fund the plan with money diverted from our own salaries. More, they’ve demanded the adoption of a draconian measure in which any future shortfalls to the plan would be made up by automatic cuts in benefits – and never by increases in employer contributions.”

“This, too, is unacceptable. The package, taken as a whole, is unacceptable – and we would be derelict in our duty if we accepted it.”

Sources have told Variety that the negotiations have centered in recent days on the health plan, which has been forced to draw on reserves in recent years.

The AMPTP responded to the guild’s letter Friday evening in a statement: “The WGA broke off negotiations at an early stage in the process in order to secure a strike vote rather than directing its efforts at reaching an agreement at the bargaining table. Keeping the industry working is in everyone’s best interests, and we are ready to return to negotiations when they are.”

The WGA accused the companies of offering “barely a single hard-dollar gain for writers” at a time when the six major media conglomerates are seeing $51 billion in yearly profits, acccording to the guild’s calculations.

The strike authorization vote — approved unanimously by the WGA negotiatprs — will take place with the current three-year contract expiring in five weeks on May 1. It comes 10-years after a bitter strike against the production companies that lasted 100 days, after WGA leaders sought a strike authorization a month before the expiration.

The letter did not give a timetable for conducting the vote.

“Therefore, your Negotiating Committee has voted unanimously to recommend that the WGAW Board of Directors and WGAE Council conduct a strike authorization vote by the membership,” the letter concluded. “Once again, we are committed to continue negotiating with the companies in good faith to get you the deal we all deserve. We will continue to update you as things progress.”

Here’s the entire letter:

Dear Colleague,

The initial two-week bargaining period agreed to by your Guild and the AMPTP concludes at the end of the day today. We do not yet have a deal. We will continue to bargain in good faith to make such a deal. But, at this point, we want to let you know where we stand.

We began the negotiations with two truths about the current state of the business at the heart of our proposals:

First, that these have been very profitable years for the companies. This past year they earned $51 billion in profits, a record.

Second, that the economic position of writers has declined sharply in the last five or so years. Screenwriters have been struggling for a long time. They are now joined by television writers, for whom short seasons are at the core of the problem. In the last two years alone, the average salary of TV writer-prod ucers fell by 23%. Those declines have not been offset by compensation in other areas. In Basic Cable and new media, our script fees and residual formulas continue to trail far behind those in broadcast – even though these new platforms are every bit as profitable as the old model.

In light of all this, we sought to tackle a number of issues that directly affect the livelihoods of all writers.

–We asked for modest gains for screenwriters, most particularly a guaranteed second-step for writers earning below a certain compensation level.

–We asked for a rational policy on family leave.

–We sought to address chronically low pay for Comedy Variety writers.

–We asked for 3% increases in minimums – and increases in the residual formula for High Budget SVOD programs commensurate with industry standards.

–We made a comprehensive proposal to deal with the pernicious effects of short seasons. This included a lim it on the amortization of episodic fees to two weeks, a proposal that sought to replicate the standard that had been accepted in the business for decades. It addressed, as well, the continued problems with Options and Exclusivity. And it sought to address the MBA’s outdated schedule of weekly minimums, which no longer adequately compensates writers for short terms of work.

–Finally, we sought to address script fee issues – in basic cable and streaming – but also in the case of Staff Writers. Unconscionably, our lowest paid members are now often held at the staff level for multiple seasons, with no compensation for the scripts they write.

What was the companies’ response to these proposals?

No, in virtually every case.

–Nothing for screenwriters. Nothing for Staff Writers. Nothing on diversity.

–On Family Leave they rejected our proposal and simply pledged to obey all applicable State and Fe deral laws – as if breaking the law were ever an option.

–On short seasons, they offered a counter-proposal that addressed the issue in name only – thus helping no one.

–They have yet to offer anything on minimums, or on HBSVOD.

–They have made some small moves on Options & Exclusivity – some small moves for Comedy Variety writers in Pay TV. But that is all.

On the last day of these two weeks, the companies’ proposal has barely a single hard-dollar gain for writers.

$51 billion in profits and barely a penny for those of us who make the product that makes the companies rich. But that’s not all.

In response to our proposal to protect our Pension and Health Plans, this has been their answer:

Nothing on Pension.

And on our Health Plan, two big rollbacks.

First, they have demanded that we make cuts to the plan – $10 million in the first year alone. In r eturn, they will allow us to fund the plan with money diverted from our own salaries.

More, they’ve demanded the adoption of a draconian measure in which any future shortfalls to the plan would be made up by automatic cuts in benefits – and never by increases in employer contributions.

This, too, is unacceptable. The package, taken as a whole, is unacceptable – and we would be derelict in our duty if we accepted it.

Therefore, your Negotiating Committee has voted unanimously to recommend that the WGAW Board of Directors and WGAE Council conduct a strike authorization vote by the membership.

Once again, we are committed to continue negotiating with the companies in good faith to get you the deal we all deserve. We will continue to update you as things progress.

Respectfully,

The Negotiating Committee Members of the WGA West and WGA East

Chip Johannessen, Co-Chair
Chris Keyser, Co-Chair
Billy Ray, Co-Chair

Alfredo Barrios, Jr.
Adam Brooks
Zoanne Clack
Marjorie David
Kate Erickson
Jonathan Fernandez
Travon Free
Howard Michael Gould
Susannah Grant
Erich Hoeber
Richard Keith
Warren Leight
Alison McDonald
Luvh Rakhe
Shawn Ryan
Stephen Schiff
David Shore
Meredith Stiehm
Patric M. Verrone
Eric Wallace
Beau Willimon
Nicole Yorkin

Howard A. Rodman, WGAW President, ex-officio
Michael Winship, WGAE President, ex-officio
David A. Goodman, WGAW Vice President, ex-officio
Jeremy Pikser, WGAE Vice President, ex-officio
Aaron Mendelsohn, WGAW Secretary-Treasurer, ex-officio
Bob Schneider, WGAE Secretary-Treasurer, ex-officio

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Obviously the call for cuts don’t cut it with our WGA friends!
Arl
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WGA Strike Vote Could Be “Very Soon” As Talks Continue!

March 24, 2017 (18:42) | 2016 | By: Arlin Miller

EXCLUSIVE: With one day left in scheduled negotiations between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers over a new film and TV contract, a strike vote by the scribes is now looking like a real possibility. “That’s the way the wind is blowing,” a source with intimate knowledge of the ongoing talks told Deadline this afternoon.

“We could have a strike vote very soon,” another insider told Deadline.

While this could be posturing to light a fire under producer reps AMPTP, even the whisper of a strike-authorization vote among senior WGA officials takes the situation to a precipice Hollywood has not really been at since 2007. Regardless, “it’s in the air in a real way,” a prominent Hollywood writer said.

Saturday is the final day of scheduled negotiations on a new three-year film and TV contract. Talks began March 13 in an atmosphere some described as “tense,” while others called them “cordial.” The current contract expires May 1, so there is time to make a deal.

Another source said that David Young, the WGA executive director and chief negotiator, often uses the threat of a strike-authorization vote as leverage when negotiations aren’t going well. Sometimes that is enough to get the companies to be more flexible. If not, and talks fail to produce an agreement, an authorization vote would be held. Such a vote, however, is not a vote to strike, but to authorize the guild’s board of directors to call a strike if further talks fail to produce a deal.

The WGA and AMPTP are said to be focused on a wide range of issues including proposals to save the guild’s ailing health plan, which could run out of money in three years at the current rates of income and expenditures. The guild also wants more money for writers of shows for New Media. Going into the talks, guild leaders told members that “new models of development, production, and distribution, while making the companies richer, have not worked to your individual or collective advantage.”

The guild is also looking to reverse the recent downturn in TV writer-producers’ earnings, and to boost the earnings of film writers, whose incomes have been in a steady decline over the last decade due to fewer films being released.

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And the Heat…ah, Beat Goes On!!!

Arl

The Ol’ SAG Watchdog

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