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Hollywood guilds flex their muscle as union influence declines nationwide!

May 10, 2017 (18:44) | 2016 | By: Arlin Miller

May 9, 2017
LA Times

The entertainment industry marches to the tune of box-office receipts and TV ratings, but the chorus of union pride can still be heard loud and clear at the highest echelons of corporate Hollywood.

As union membership continues to decline nationwide, Hollywood remains a bastion of organized labor, with unions controlling nearly every aspect of production, including the director who calls “action” and the truck drivers who transport equipment to and from sets. Their power can bring the film and TV industry to a standstill — the Writers Guild of America came close to striking last week, only to reach a last-minute deal with the studios.

The agreement underscored the leverage that unions still possess in the film and TV industries and highlighted a new wave of labor unrest. As viewers migrate away from traditional broadcast and cable to consume content on digital platforms, entertainment guilds are fighting to keep up with changing modes of compensation and to safeguard hard-fought benefits, like generous healthcare plans.

SAG-AFTRA is set to begin its own contract negotiations this month, with talks expected to focus on such issues as residuals for streaming services including Netflix and Amazon. The actors’ union is already several months into a strike against major video game companies. SAG-AFTRA is seeking a new compensation structure that would allow actors to start receiving residual-like payments on a game’s commercial success, but game companies have balked at the demand.

Two factors account for the prevailing power of unions in Hollywood, according to Harley Shaiken, a professor and labor economist at UC Berkeley.

“They command a strategic resource — creative talent — and they bargain effectively,” Shaiken said. But elsewhere in the economy, “the defining narrative of the union today is declining membership and they remain very much under attack.”

Last year, the share of American wage and salary workers who were members of unions fell to 10.7%, down from 11.1% in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Union membership hit a high in 1954 at close to 35% of all U.S. wage and salary workers. The drop is attributable to various factors, including the decline in manufacturing and the waning influence of unions in construction.

But in Hollywood, virtually all personnel involved with movie and TV production are union members. One major exception is reality TV, which often uses non-union crews and performers. The WGA has tried to organize several popular reality shows but has faced pushback from production companies. Other unions, notably the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents technical workers on film crews, have had more success unionizing reality TV shows.

The Hollywood guilds have maintained their dominance even as the major studios have come under control of major media conglomerates. Their longevity is due in part to a unique culture in which guild membership is highly coveted — a sign that you’ve arrived.

“It’s a badge of honor, a badge of status,” said Brian Walton, a former executive director of the WGA who has been a negotiator for SAG. He said the guilds have successfully built a sense of community among their thousands of members and are an established industry presence.

Members also have financial motivations for remaining loyal to their unions: Combined, they receive an estimated $2 billion in residuals each year, Walton said. Each guild negotiates its own contract with the studios.

Fights over compensation typically erupt during periods of technological disruption, which have included the rise of TV in the ‘50s to the advent of cable and home video in the ‘80s. With streaming services now dominating the industry, the guilds have become more aggressive about staking their claims on revenue from new digital platforms.

When cable and DVDs emerged, “the guilds made deals that they later felt were insufficient given the growth of those areas,” said Ivy Kagan Bierman, an entertainment labor attorney at Loeb & Loeb. “So the guilds are very focused on making sure they negotiate provisions that will be beneficial for their members” in areas including streaming and the Internet.

In upcoming contract talks, SAG-AFTRA will follow successful negotiations led by the WGA and the Directors Guild of America, both of which achieved increases in streaming residuals. The guilds have historically engaged in pattern bargaining, in which the gains made by one are used as leverage for the others.

The focus of the SAG-AFTRA negotiations “will be on coming to a mutual agreement as quickly as possible,” Bierman said. “I’m not anticipating it will hold a threat of a strike over these companies. I think SAG-AFTRA understands the devastating effect that strikes have had on the industry.”

SAG nearly staged a strike in 2008, but its efforts were badly hampered by sparring with its sister union. The 2012 merger with AFTRA has created more unity — and potentially more bargaining clout for actors — though the current leadership is considered more pragmatic than the faction that led the union during the previous standoff.

Major labor strikes in Hollywood history include the WGA’s walkouts in 2007 and 1988, which lasted 100 days and 155 days, respectively. Commercial actors went on strike in 2000 for six months over residuals.

Union leaders often argue that strikes — or threatened strikes — deliver new gains for members.

“We were able to achieve a deal that will net this Guild’s members $130 million more, over the life of the contract, than the pattern we were expected to accept,” WGA negotiators said last week.

The Hollywood guilds rose to power at the height of the old studio system, when actors were treated as little more than studio chattel, often made to work grueling hours. Writers and directors were also seen as interchangeable cogs in the Hollywood machinery.

Historically, the guilds have had an antagonistic relationship with the studios, dating to the 1930s. Moguls such as Walt Disney, Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg were openly hostile to unions, which they saw as a front for communism.

Today, studio bosses recognize the role of unions and occasionally intervene to keep the peace, as was the case last week when the WGA negotiated a last-minute agreement to avert a strike. The tentative three-year contract must still be ratified by members.

While popular in Hollywood, unions remain politically divisive nationwide. Only 44% of Republicans say they have a favorable opinion of labor unions, while 76% of Democrats hold a favorable view, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center.

In February, a Republican-backed bill was introduced in the House of Representatives that would introduce right-to-work laws nationwide, thereby allowing workers to choose not to join a union in companies covered by union contracts.

Members of the WGA condemned the bill, saying it was an attempt to “crush” the labor movement. “Strong sturdy unions are essential to organize workplaces,” WGA East President Michael Winship and Executive Director Lowell Peterson said in a statement.

President Trump, who drew large support from blue-collar workers, supports right-to-work laws. “He wants to give workers and companies the flexibility to do what’s in the best interest for job creators,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in a February briefing.

In recent years, the Hollywood guilds have worked hard to maintain visibility in the industry through efforts that have included regular email communication with members and their annual red-carpet awards ceremonies attended by A-list celebrities.

The official rhetoric is often inclusive and reassuring, even in the midst of a contentious negotiation. Last week, the WGA praised its members after reaching a tentative agreement with the studios after several weeks of talks.

“That result, and that resolve, is a testament to you, your courage, and your faith in us as your representatives,” the guild’s negotiating committee said in an email to members. “Your voices were indeed heard.”

And that’s the name of that tome!


The Ol’ SAG Watchdog

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It’s Official: Russell Hollander Succeeds Jay D. Roth as DGA National Executive Director

May 8, 2017 (23:42) | 2016 | By: Arlin Miller


5:03 PM PDT 5/8/2017 by Jonathan Handel
Photo Courtesy of DGA
Russell Hollander (center) accepts the office keys from Jay D. Roth as secretary-treasurer Michael Apted (far left), president Paris Barclay and board member Steven Spielberg applaud.

The handoff, announced in February, has now taken place.

Longtime Directors Guild of America executive Russell Hollander succeeded Jay D. Roth as national executive director at the DGA’s May 6 board meeting, guild president Paris Barclay announced Monday.

“I’m honored to have been selected to lead our guild into the future,” said Hollander. “For over 15 years, I have been part of our leadership team that has accomplished so much together, and am proud to continue the 80-year tradition that’s made it all possible — a strong partnership between our elected leaders and staff.”

Said Barclay, “In this pivotal moment, we’re incredibly fortunate to have Russ — a longtime, dedicated guild executive who is well-poised to tackle the world of tomorrow. With Russ at the helm of our incredible DGA staff, we’re confident in our future, but we’re also grateful for how far we’ve come. There aren’t enough words to thank Jay for the many milestones achieved under his guidance, and for developing a new generation of executive leadership. Our guild is in good hands.”

Roth and Hollander for many months have worked with the DGA’s national board, councils and senior executive staff to ensure a seamless transition. Roth, after 22 years as national executive director, will remain with the guild as senior adviser. He will continue his role with the DGA-Producer Pension and Health Plans, and in overseeing the guild’s research department.

“The future is bright for our guild. For over a decade and a half, Russ has played a pivotal role on my senior executive team in our many milestones, in navigating complex industry dynamics and shifting technologies, and in shepherding our growing footprint. There is nobody better prepared to take the reins,” said Roth. “I thank our board, and all the presidents I have worked alongside, for the opportunity and the privilege to do what I love — serve this phenomenal guild for so many years.”

Hollander, a 16-year DGA veteran, formerly headed the DGA’s New York office before moving to its Los Angeles headquarters in January 2016 to take on an expanded national role. He has served as the DGA’s chief negotiator in six broadcast network negotiations and four commercial negotiations, and was also a leading participant in the guild’s most recent negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. He previously also had national responsibility for non-dramatic programming, news, sports, commercials and new media.

Hollander joined the DGA in 2001 as assistant Eastern executive director, was promoted to Eastern executive director in 2002, and promoted again in 2011 to Eastern executive director/associate national executive director. Prior to joining the DGA, he was a partner at labor law firm Cohen, Weiss and Simon LLP, where he specialized in the representation of labor organizations and employee benefit plans.

Hollander is a graduate of Harvard Law School and holds an undergraduate degree from Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. “I thank our board for their confidence,” he said. “And I thank Jay, my mentor, for building the template for success in advancing the creative and economic rights of directors and their teams.”

Another Key announcement!  Huh?  I should be punished for that one!   But, but, but…



The Ol’ SAG Watchdog

*Headline Photo came with story.

** Watchdog Reads for April: 2017-04 12836



WGA Appalled” Over FCC Review Of Stephen Colbert’s Crude Trump Tirade!

May 8, 2017 (10:02) | 2016 | By: Arlin Miller


With a strike adverted at the last minute last week, the WGA today struck up a defense of Stephen Colbert against the FCC’s so-called investigation of last week’s scathing and lewd late-night monologue against President Donald Trump.

“As presidents of the Writers Guilds of America, East and West, we were appalled to read recent remarks by Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai,” said WGA East boss Michael Winship and WGA West chief Howard Rodman this morning. “He said the FCC would investigate a joke about Donald Trump by Writers Guild member Stephen Colbert, ‘apply the law’ and ‘take appropriate action’ if the joke were found to be ‘obscene,’” the duo added of the FCC chair’s May 5 response in a radio interview.

In what could have been his last show in a while if the WGA had gone on strike in the early hours of May 2, the initial monologue by Colbert on May 1 was a repeatedly bleeped on-air response to Trump having insulted CBS newsman John Dickerson during an interview broadcast earlier that morning.

While Pai may have seemed to relish giving Colbert some heat, the chairman never actually used the word “investigation.” The fact is the FCC is obliged to review every complaint it receives and that process is no indication of its “merit,” to use a term from the federal agency.

Still, the WGA is bi-coastally peeved, to say the least.

“Pai’s remarks are just the latest in a series of statements by the current administration indicating a willful disregard of the First Amendment. Colbert was poking fun at authority, a time-honored American tradition and an essential principle of democracy,” Winship and Rodman went on to say about their multi-Emmy winning member. “What is obscene is not what Colbert said but any attempt by the government to stifle dissent and creativity. Our unions vehemently support Colbert and his writers and will fight for his or any individual’s right to publicly express his or her opinion of our elected officials.”

After taking social media fire with #FireColbert circulating, the CBS late-night host himself admitted last week that maybe he’d gone a little too hard in what he said about the former Celebrity Apprentice host and current POTUS. “So while I would do it again, I would change a few words that were cruder than they needed to be,” Colbert made clear at the top of his May 3 show. “Now, I’m not going to repeat the phrase. I just want to say, for the record: life is short, and anyone who expresses their love for another person, in their own way, is, to me, an American hero. And I think we can all agree on that. I hope even the president and I can agree on that. Nothing else – but, that.”

You can check out what Colbert actually said on May 1 here:


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Hey, he keeps using crude language and folks will think he’s running for president!


The Ol’ SAG Watchdog

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WGA’s New Contract Provides Major Boost To Keep Health Plan Solvent; Other Key Elements Of Pact Revealed!

May 5, 2017 (12:15) | 2016 | By: Arlin Miller

The WGA’s ailing health plan will get a $65.85 million infusion of employer contributions over the next three years to keep it solvent once the guild’s new contract is ratified by the members. Combined with $21 million in cost savings, the additional revenue and savings will provide $86.85 million to keep the health plan solvent, which was one of the WGA’s key goals going into the recent contract negotiations.


A WGA summary offers other new details of the contract, which was approved unanimously Thursday night by the respective board and council of the WGA West and East, including a 2% increase in most of the guild’s minimums in the first year of the contract and 2.5% increases in the second and third years. “Some minimums and rates increase less, typically 1% or 1.5% per year, or increasing only once or twice during the contract,” the WGA said in its new summary. “A few items do not increase during the term of the 2017 contract. Most of these exceptions are the result of patterns established in the industry.”

The less than standard increase in minimums – the DGA recently got increases of 2.5%, 3% and 3% in its new three-year contract – appear to have been a tradeoff for increases to the WGA health plan. Under the writers’ new pact, employer contributions to the health plan will rise from the current 9.5% to 10.5% at the start of the 2017 agreement, to 11% in the second year and to 11.5% in the third year. These increases are expected to generate an additional $14 million in the first year of the contract, $21 million in the second year, and $30 million in the third year. As a concession, the guild agreed to implement cost savings of $7 million per year, from about $150 million in spending per year, for a total savings of $21 million over the life of the contract. The additional revenue and cost savings provide $86 million to the fund.

The health plan will also receive additional funding from an increase in the contribution base for writers on overall deals from $250,000 to $275,000 per year for writers earning more than $250,000. This is expected to generate another $850,000 over the life of the contract and prevents the use of this provision to underpay the health fund.

Altogether, the guild said, “these changes provide $86.85 million to offset about $80 million in projected cost increases during the next three years, achieving the goal of solvency for the health plan for the duration of the agreement, and for some time thereafter.”

Other highlights include:

Increased Compensation for Short Seasons

Writers at the producer level on TV staffs will have a cap of 2.4 weeks of work per episode that their episodic fee pays for. For example, 10 episodic fees pay for up to 24 weeks of work. Weeks in excess of that cap are paid at the writer’s individual weekly rate, computed by dividing the episodic fee by 2.4. These limits will take effect May 2, 2018, and will apply to series with episode orders of 12 or fewer episodes on broadcast networks, and 14 or fewer episodes on cable and digital platforms. Additionally, these rules will apply only to writers guaranteed $350,000 or less in a year, excluding script fees.

Expanded Limits on Options & Exclusivity

The limits on the options under which series writers can be held and the exclusivity requirements they have been subject to have been extended to a broader range of writers. The eligibility threshold has been increased from $210,000 under the 2014 MBA to $275,000 starting May 2, 2018 ($280,500 starting May 2, 2019) for most programs, and to $250,000 and under starting May 2, 2018, for writers working on children’s programs.

Increased Residuals for Made-for-Pay TV

Residuals for made-for-pay television are increased 10% in the first year of the contract and 5% in the second year of the contract.

In addition, writers on made-for-pay television comedy-variety programs, who were excluded from fixed residuals under prior MBAs, will now receive them.

Increased Residuals for Programs Made For High-Budget Subscription Video on Demand

Domestic use of made-for-HBSVOD programs now triggers a residual after 90 days, rather than after one year. The base for the residual will be increased and the residual is increased 50% for the largest SVOD service.

In addition, the contract establishes a new residual for affiliated SVOD use outside the US, such as the extensive use Netflix makes of most of its WGA-written original content. This residual starts at 35% of the domestic residual each year, and declines to 10% of the domestic residual by year 13 for each year thereafter of the life of the program.

Existing series and programs with license agreements that pre-date May 2, 2017, are grandfathered under the current provisions, even if the writing is done after May 2, 2017. If the company changes the deal terms of the license agreement, the 2017 HBSVOD terms apply.

Increased Residuals for Reuse on Ad-Supported Video on Demand

The residual that compensates writers for AVOD on cable and the Internet is increased from 5.0% of the base to 5.5% for each 26-week exhibition period. Also, the base is increased.

Parental Leave with Job Security

In a first-ever provision in a WGA contract, writers on term contracts in episodic television will be entitled to up to eight weeks of unpaid job-protected parental leave for the birth of a new child, the adoption of a child, or the placement of a foster child.

The Guild also agreed to several additional items:

  • The Guild extended the scope of provisions for sales to secondary digital broadcast services and second sales to basic cable channels. The current provisions, first negotiated in 2014, required that series be off the air for 18 months or more. Those waiting periods are now eliminated. Instead, a definition of “out of production” will be included which permits newer series to be sold in these ways, but which ensures the series are truly cancelled.
  • When a live awards show is rerun on the West Coast only, the residual will be one-third of the normal residual.
  • The Guild agreed to allow television series made-for-basic cable to be released on a domestic foreign language basic cable channel for 2% of the license fee rather than triggering fixed residuals.
  • The Guild agreed to allow limited theatrical release of television programs under a percentage of revenue residual rather than the current theatrical release payment, to encourage such release without undercutting payment for full releases.
  • The Guild added MOWs to previously agreed terms for foreign remakes of television episodes.
  • In the case where a writer reacquires a script, The Guild agreed that the original signatory will be released from any residual obligations.
  • The Guild agreed to a definition of “Virtual Multi-Channel Video Program Distributors” (vMVPDs). This provides that the new “skinny bundle” services such as Sling TV, PS Vue, YouTube TV, and CBS All Access are treated as cable TV providers under the MBA. Some of these services also carry original content, which will continue to be treated as made-for-SVOD, as they currently are.
  • Program fees, payable to writers on network series, are now payable all at once after the season rather than during the season.
  • Work lists, through which companies report to the Guild which writers are working for them each week, are now required in new media.
  • The tri-guild audit program was extended for three years.
  • The definition of a professional writer, which applies to certain technical provisions under the MBA, is broadened to include writing for new media as qualifying work.
  • The Guild agreed to accept Notices of Tentative Writing Credits by email, which was not previously permitted as a method of submission.
  • The Guild extended provisions for compensation for compilation episodes of weekly series to four-per-week series.

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The Ol’ SAG Watchdog
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WGA Leaders On Both Coasts Approve New Contract!

May 5, 2017 (00:40) | 2016 | By: Arlin Miller

The WGA’s new film and TV contract was approved tonight in Los Angeles by the board of the WGA West and in New York by the council of the WGA East. It now goes to the guilds’ members for final ratification, which is all but guaranteed.

There was lots of backslapping at tonight’s meetings and praise for the writers’ negotiating committee – which worked for free – and for the guilds’ chief negotiator, WGA West executive director David Young.

A deal on the new pact, which averted a threatened strike, was reached early Tuesday morning after weeks of on-again-off-again negotiations, and about an hour after the midnight expiration of the old contract.

The agreement with management’s AMPTP calls for across the board increases in guild minimums and tens of millions of dollars in additional employer contributions to the WGA’s ailing health plan, which guild leaders say “should ensure its solvency for years to come.”

One of the guilds’ major goals going into the talks was to hammer out a new pay formula for short-order TV shows – seasons of 10-13 episodes that have come to dominate the industry – that pay for only half of a traditional full season even though they usually take their writers off the market for a full year. To address this problem, the guilds won new provisions further expanding protections known as options and exclusivity, and new contract language that established an episodic fee for each 2.4 weeks of work. Any writing beyond that span will now require additional payments for hundreds of writer-producers, whose pay has been in decline in recent years.

The new contract also calls for a 15% increase in Pay TV residuals; some $15 million in increases in high-budget SVOD residuals; job protection for parental leave; and, for the first time ever, residuals for comedy-variety writers working on Pay TV shows.

The deal was made possible by a 96.3% vote of the guilds’ members to authorize a strike if the contract talks failed to produce a fair deal.

In a statement to their members issued shortly after the agreement was reached, guild leaders said: “Did we get everything we wanted? No. Everything we deserve? Certainly not. But because we had the near-unanimous backing of you and your fellow writers, we were able to achieve a deal that will net this guild’s members $130 million more, over the life of the contract, than the pattern we were expected to accept.”

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The Ol’ SAG Watchdog

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