By David Robb April 22, 2019 4:41pm
More than 7,000 WGA members have fired their agents en mass as the guild ramps up its campaign against talent agencies that refuse to sign its new Code of Conduct. The guild said Monday it delivered “a first batch of over 7,000 termination letters from WGA members to the non-franchised agencies,” including those signed by thousands of writer-clients of CAA, WME, UTA and ICM Partners – the big four packaging agencies that the guild sued last week.
Last month, 8,274 WGA members took part in a vote authorizing the guild’s leadership to implement the new code, which bans packaging fees and requires agencies to sever their ties to affiliated production entities. Of those who cast ballots, 7,882 (95.3%) voted in favor and only 392 (4.7%) voted no.
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The WGA West has about 10,000 active members, and the WGA East has about 5,000. The guild said in its note to members today that as of April 12, records showed 8,800 current members with an agent, and that “99% of the members who signed the Statement of Support have fulfilled their pledge by terminating their non-franchised agencies.”
“These are astounding, powerful numbers,” read the note, signed by the WGA-Agency Agreement Negotiating Committee. (Read the full letter below.)
Only a few writers have publicly said that they are going to defy the guild and not fire their agents.
Their form letters of termination, as written by the guild, state that “Effective April 13, 2019, if your agency has not signed a franchise agreement with the Writers Guild of America, whether in the form of a Code of Conduct or a negotiated agreement, under WGA rules I can no longer be represented by you for my covered writing services. Once your agency is again in good standing with the Writers Guild, we can reestablish our relationship. Thank you.”
None of the major agencies, which do nearly all of the packaging of scripted TV shows, has signed the new code. Writers who refuse to fire those agents could face discipline by the guild – and possibly expulsion. The guild says that “No current WGA member can be represented by an agency that is not franchised by the guild in accordance with Working Rule 23,” which states that “No writer shall enter into a representation agreement whether oral or written, with any agent who has not entered into an agreement with the guild covering minimum terms and conditions between agents and their writer clients.”
According to Article X of the WGA’s constitution, members found guilty of violating Rule 23 can be “suspended, declared not in good standing, expelled from membership in the guild, be asked to resign, be censured, fined or otherwise disciplined, or any combination of the foregoing.”
WGA West president David A. Goodman, in a recent communique to his members, said that e-signing the form letters of termination “is mandatory rather than optional,” but didn’t specify the penalty for those who don’t.
“When the guild takes action, we do so as a group,” he wrote. “While we encourage members to communicate directly with their agents, we don’t ask an individual member to take a stand. We do it together. In addition to protecting you as an individual, the e-signed letters protect us all from any agency claim that our 95.3% vote wasn’t real – that people voted one way and acted another. They are already suggesting that. What this action does is show each individual writer that they are not doing this alone.”
Last Wednesday, the WGA sued the big four packaging agencies, claiming that packaging fees are an “egregious conflict of interest” that “constitute unlawful kickbacks” from the studios to the agencies.
According to the guild, the big four agencies “dominate the representation of writers in Hollywood” and receive “over 80% of the packaging fees paid by Hollywood studios and networks.” Tony Segall, the WGA West’s general counsel, said that the eight individual plaintiffs named in the complaint are seeking “a judicial declaration that packaging fees are unlawful and an injunction prohibiting talent agencies from entering into future packaging deals. The suit will also seek damages and repayment of illegal profits on behalf of writers who have been harmed by these unlawful practices in the past.”
Here’s today’s email:
As of April 12, the WGA’s records showed 8,800 current members with an agent. Today the Guild delivered a first batch of over 7,000 termination letters from WGA members to the non-franchised agencies.
99% of the members who signed the Statement of Support have fulfilled their pledge by terminating their non-franchised agencies.
These are astounding, powerful numbers.
Thank you. We’ve done what was necessary. Most of the writers who haven’t yet signed termination letters are retirees or no longer actively working. Guild staff will reach out to that group while as writers we will move forward and focus on achieving our goal, which remains the same: to realign agencies’ interests with the interests of writers.
The primary source of pressure on agencies to sign the Code of Conduct is their lack of writer clients. Therefore, adherence to Working Rule 23 remains the main responsibility of all Guild members. Please review the FAQ to be sure you are in full compliance.
Also vitally important is support for members who are without agents and looking for work. Your response to the call for solidarity and mutual assistance is inspiring: showrunners reading scripts, writers boosting other writers through mixers, hashtags, Google spreadsheets, or just one-to-one member outreach. We have also expanded Guild resources, and you can find them here.
We look forward to the day when we are all represented by agencies who have agreed to align their interests with ours; in the meantime, writers will continue working, continue supporting each other, and continue to prove that we can and will make the necessary change happen.
WGA-Agency Agreement Negotiating Committee
Chris Keyser, Co-Chair
David Shore, Co-Chair
Meredith Stiehm, Co-Chair
Deric A. Hughes
Tracey Scott Wilson
Patric M. Verrone
David A. Goodman, President WGAW, ex-officio
Marjorie David, Vice President WGAW, ex-officio
Aaron Mendelsohn, Secretary-Treasurer WGAW, ex-officio
Beau Willimon, President WGAE, ex-officio
Jeremy Pikser, Vice President WGAE, ex-officio
Bob Schneider, Secretary-Treasurer WGAE, ex-officio
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