No Progress In WGA Talks With ATA As Guild’s Latest Offer Deemed “Lipstick On A Pig”; Read Both Sides’ Statements – Update
by David Robb
March 14, 2019 7:16pm
UPDATED with post-talks statement by ATA executive director and opening statement by WGA West president: The WGA and the Association of Talent Agents met today for the second time this week to hammer out a new franchise agreement ahead of the April 6 deadline for a deal. Little progress was made, but the two sides agreed to return to the bargaining table on Monday.
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“The WGA presented a counter-proposal that they knew wasn’t acceptable,” an agency source told Deadline. “It almost wasn’t different at all from their original proposals, but they they have a new title for it. It’s like putting lipstick on a pig.”
WGA West president David A. Goodman opened today’s negotiations with a lengthy statement in response to ATA President Jim Gosnell’s opening remarks from Tuesday. “We disagree with most of your proposed solutions,” he said, adding that “we are still speaking different languages on the crucial issue of the role of the union in protecting the wellbeing of writers.” Read the full statement below.
ATA executive director Karen Stuart said after today’s meeting that the WGA does still not seeming to be taking the negotiations very seriously – a complaint she made shortly after the talks began on February 5. Here is her full statement:
“Unfortunately, it appears at this time that the WGA really doesn’t want to make a deal. While we appreciate their overtures in tone, they didn’t present any meaningful counter proposals today – instead presenting their original ‘code of conduct’ with a different title.
“Based on our conversations with hundreds of film and television writers, we’re hearing that they want to have choice and options. This is reflected in the counter-proposals and the Statement of Choice the ATA presented this week, all of which are grounded in expanding transparency and enforcement. The Guild is pushing a unilateral mandate that questions writers’ own decision-making ability and will destabilize the entire industry, affecting writers, directors and actors alike. The Guild’s proposals will only weaken our collective ability to continue advancing artists careers and confront the power imbalance created by the dramatic changes in the media landscape.
“ATA member agencies remain committed to finding a pathway and will meet again next week with the WGA to try to come to an agreement.”
The two sides remain far apart on the two key stumbling blocks: the WGA’s demands that agencies stop collecting packaging fees and sever their ties with affiliated production entities, such as WME has with Endeavor Content, CAA with Wiip and UTA with Civic Center Media.
The WGA says both are violations of agents’ fiduciary duty to put the interests of their clients ahead of their own. The ATA has said that it agrees with “a majority” of the guild’s proposals, but says that caving to the guild’s two key demands would have “serious negative consequences” – not only for the industry, but for writers, as well.
This was the fourth round of talks since bargaining got underway on February 5. On February 21, two days after the second get-together, the WGA made three modifications to its original proposals, the most significant of which was the withdrawal of a proposal that would have prohibited agents from collecting their 10% commissions on writers’ scale – the minimums negotiated by the guild.
“This was a difficult decision,” the guild said at the time. “Protecting the full minimum for writers at scale remains a valid goal. Yet many smaller agencies argued persuasively that, without the ability to charge commission on scale, they could not afford to invest time and effort nurturing the careers of entry-level writers. And we heard from a significant number of anxious members concerned they and other newer or lower-level writers would simply be dropped by their agencies.”
The guild will be asking its members to a approve a new Code of Conduct at the end of the month that would ban packaging fees and force agencies to cut ties with affiliated production companies. If approved, and a new deal isn’t reached with the ATA by April 6, the WGA could ordered its members to fire their agents en masse who refuse to sign the Code.
Here is Goodman’s opening statement today:
“I want to take a few minutes to share with you how the WGA views this franchise agreement negotiation,” Goodman said at today’s meeting. “And I want to thank you by acknowledging the unusual difficulty of this situation. The chief difficulty being that no one in this room has any experience with negotiating this agreement. We recognize that our analysis of the problems is something many of you have taken personally, and we genuinely appreciate your willingness to listen and to try to address the issues.
“Our AMBA expires in just over three weeks. There is time to make a deal, and we commit, as you have, to making every effort to do so. To that end we have a comprehensive counterproposal for you.
“But before we present it, I need to be very honest about where we stand today. While we appreciate the tenor of Jim Gosnell’s remarks on Tuesday, we disagree with most of your proposed solutions. Our progress here depends on honest communication, so I am respectfully going to tell why we disagree with your “Statement of Choice” perspective. We think, along with industry consolidation, your fundamental conflicts of interest are at the heart of the problem of writers’ over-scale pay. By denying any responsibility for the problem, you are abandoning your fiduciary duty and failing at the admittedly difficult job the WGA delegates to you: maximizing writers’ over-scale pay.
“The negotiation, if it is going to succeed, cannot just be platitudes about empowering individual client choice. Choice is only a real choice if an individual writer has the power to exercise it in the face of a powerful company or agency. Very few do. All of your proposals ask individual writers to do things that have already proven mostly impossible, like having a real choice in agency packaging and producing deals. Even something as simple as our proposal that you provide the Guild with the necessary information to enforce the MBA is unacceptable to you without the burdensome and unnecessary requirement of individualized client consent.
“Let’s be clear: This is not an individual negotiation. It is a negotiation about how the Guild will delegate its exclusive right to represent all writers as a whole. This committee is empowered to represent all writers in a collective fashion, and we will not accept proposals that allow you to avoid providing all information and transparency to our Guild. It might sound harsh but your proposals remind us of those normally received from anti-union employers, who often attempt to remove the union from the power dynamic while paying homage to individual choice. As I’m sure you are aware, “Right to Work” laws and proposals are regularly presented as being about offering workers a “choice,” when in fact they amount to attacking unions and undermining employees’ collective power.
“In short, it is March 14th and we are still speaking different languages on the crucial issue of the role of the Union in protecting the wellbeing of writers.
“Now let’s talk for a moment about declining writer income. You mention orders of 8 to 13 episodes as if they are macroeconomic factors totally unrelated to your responsibility for overscale pay. The fact is episodic quotes have been stagnant for twenty years, a factor that has nothing to do with short orders. And in an industry awash with money, writers’ declining episodic quotes and the requirement to work many weeks per episode were completely yours to address. It is not misleading to say that as these problems developed, you did nothing, never said a word to us about the problems or how to fix them, so the Guild had to step in and start regulating options and exclusivity provisions (in 2014) and then negotiate a span provision (2017). We are in effect negotiating overscale income provisions into our MBA. Although we admit the business did change, you have taken the change as something you have no obligation to address.
“You also say that stagnation for lower and mid-level writers is not the result of packaging and ‘affiliated’ production, that the data proves that writers working on agency-packaged shows make the same as those not working on packaged shows. This is a false premise. There is no way to compare what writers would make in a world with agency packaging and without agency packaging. Agency packaging is so dominant that it controls the whole market for writers in television. Even when an agency is negotiating for a writer on a show they don’t have a package on, the agency overall is in constant deal-making with the same studios for packaging fees on other projects. Even agencies that don’t package are at a disadvantage advocating for their clients in this system. And the disadvantage of agencies paid directly by our employers doesn’t stop with series television: Hundreds of screenwriters and pilot writers tell us that their agents not only fail to protect them from free work and late pay, but discourage them from reporting it to the Guild. Maintaining “conflict free” relationships with producers and studios too often trumps the well-being of writers individually and collectively. Until incentives are truly aligned again, this will continue.
“Your comments about how the highest-paid Guild members are doing feel pretty tone deaf. We all know about the huge deals, but many experienced writers and showrunners in TV have had their pay pushed down close to Guild minimum scale. Most screenwriters don’t have quotes anymore, yet you have refused to give us every deal memo and invoice so that the Guild can defend them. And all this while the agencies take in billions from venture capital, which can only happen when you are extremely profitable. We feel you are saying that even though some of you are doing great, and the companies are doing great, if writers aren’t, the Guild should stop being upset about it.
“Speaking frankly, it doesn’t appear you are taking our proposals very seriously. So I will say bluntly, we won’t make an agreement that turns packaging into a false individual choice that each writer is supposed to make. There will have to be a resolution, if one is to be had, that empowers the Guild to defend all writers’ interests. The same goes for producing. The extreme conflict of interest that is embodied by Agencies as producers cannot be dealt with by changing email addresses or calling entities controlled by the agency heads “affiliates.” We want a real solution: Those of you who are owned by venture capital should become separate entities. We are happy to have you as signatory producers, as long as the agency business becomes a truly separate entity.
“Since you have commented about our public communication, I want to say that we need to be able to communicate with our members. You obviously have that same right to talk to your clients, and in fact when members asked me in previous weeks whether they should go to their agency’s outreach meetings, I always said yes. We hope we get to a moment in this negotiation where we’re in true deal making mode, and then there will be nothing to say publicly. For the Guild’s part, we’ll know that the parties are truly engaged with each other and moving forward when you move past the rhetoric about “individual choice and empowerment” and take our union as the entity that you must deal with in order to reach a new agreement. I need to remind you that though I’m the one talking, I’m not just talking for myself.
“I want to emphasize that any negotiated solution must come from this room and from the real interests and differences of the parties. We are ready to work with you every day to explore the possibility of a negotiated solution.”
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