September 6, 2016 | 06:34PM PT
Key candidates for the ruling boards of the Writers Guild of America have promised a tough stance at the bargaining table as negotiations loom on a successor deal with producers.
Former WGA West president Patric Verrone, “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner and “The Walking Dead” executive producer Glen Mazzara — all running for the eight open seats on the WGA West’s board — have weighed in with calls for solidarity and pledges that they will try to get writers more money. “House of Cards” showrunner Beau Willimon has promised he’ll be active in negotiations.
But there’s only minimal mention of a strike threat. The statements began arriving recently in booklets and have been posted on the guild’s website with the results announced Sept. 19.
“As a Board member, I promise to approach the future in unity with all writers,” Weiner wrote. “My lesson from 20 years of work (and negotiation) is that we must never let our love for our work be used against us. We are strong together. And it’s never been more important to educate all of our members, new and old, that with solidarity, we are very powerful.”
Mazzara noted that he’s been a showrunner four times and opined that the “complex” relationship between studios, networks and agencies is one that he still doesn’t understand.
“I believe the business model is designed to be as opaque as possible to keep writers from getting their fair share of the pie,” Mazzara added. “Throughout my career, the entertainment industry’s earnings have broken record after record and yet writers’ fees and opportunities appear to shrink. This is what I hear in my meetings with working and non-working writers. If elected to the Board, I would give voice to their experiences as well as my own.”
Verrone, an animation writer best known for leading the 2007-08 strike, said the negotiations won’t be easy.
“There are already issues that will be on the table for this negotiation which are fundamental to the financial well-being of our membership, including our health insurance and pension plans. Maintaining those benefits, as well as improving salary and residual rates (especially in cable and made-for-internet writing) will be a driving force of this negotiation from the writers’ side,” he said.
“Unfortunately, from management’s side, there will be inevitable resistance. Collective bargaining is essentially a power struggle between an employer’s ability to pay and its employees’ ability to make them pay, and this negotiation will be no different.”
One candidate, David Slack, warned members that they must be prepared to strike if necessary.
“I don’t want another strike any more than you do,” he said. “I believe that good unions are partners in their industry. But part of being a good partner is being honest about what you need and being a tough negotiator for what you’ve earned. In a writers’ room, it is almost always our job to say ‘Yes, and…’ But in the coming negotiation, we need to be ready to simply say no. No to rollbacks. No to cuts to our health and pension plans. No to refusals to pay us a fair share of the money they make with our ideas, our work, and our words. Without a credible strike threat, we will not have the leverage we need to make the gains we must achieve.”
The WGA’s current deal expires May 1, two months before the June 30 expiration of the master contracts for the Directors Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA. No negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have been set by any of the unions but the DGA is widely expected to go first, setting a template for the WGA and SAG-AFTRA deals.
The DGA named Michael Apted and Thomas Schlamme to head its negotiating committee in February but has said nothing since. SAG-AFTRA will begin holding its wages and working conditions meetings with members on Thursday and has not gone public with any details.
But the WGA has been by far the most public about what it will seek, with its board telling its 8,000 members in May that they plan to seek a bigger cut of the $49 billion in 2015 profits from the top six media conglomerates.
Verrone is running as an incumbent as are Marjorie David, Jonathan Fernandez and Chip Johannessen, who co-chaired the 2014 negotiations with Billy Ray. Others seeking seats are Keenen Ivory Wayans (who did not issue a statement), Ligiah Villalobos, Ali LeRoi, Courtney Ellinger, Zoanne Clack and Richard Keith.
Clack and several other candidates pledged that they will work on increasing diversity among writers.
“Finding those hidden voices that are straining to be heard can help us tell more interesting, complex, and diverse stories that reflect the world we live in and keep Hollywood relevant,” she said. “We need to have less of the ‘diversity hires’ and more hires who are valued for their singular voices, writing and contributions. We can increase diversity by making it an important issue, by keeping it in the forefront, and by acknowledging the unconscious biases we carry and making them conscious.”
Ballots will be counted on Sept. 19. The elections usually generate participation of about 20% to 30% of the 8,000 eligible members, with 27% casting ballots last fall when Howard A. Rodman was elected president over Joan Meyerson.
The WGA West jointly negotiates with the WGA East on the guild’s master contract with producers. Willimon and five other incumbents are seeking re-election to council seats.
“Should I be re-elected to Council, I plan to be very involved in the negotiating process,” he said. “Having worked for almost a decade with major film studios and having been at the forefront of launching streaming television, I have a unique on-the-ground perspective that I believe will be useful voice in making sure we remain strong as a union moving forward.”