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To strike or not to strike?


The Monday after SAG and WGA rubbed heads with each other at a March 16 contract negotiation strategy session, WGA issued a letter to its members assuring them that the stockpiling from 2001 is not making a comeback in this year’s talks. What is at stake here are important decisions to be made about compensation in an age of brand new broadcasting technologies , i.e. through the internet and cellphone.

The following articles report on the closed meeting between the allies. Whereas the LA Times article gives the news straight, The Variety and Hollywood Reporter articles have different takes on the relationships between different film and TV guilds and why DGA and AFTRA were not in on the meeting:

LA Times: Unions for actors, writers strategize

The gathering comes at a time of mounting tensions between actors and writers and major Hollywood studios, primarily over concerns that talent will be shortchanged when their work is shown or rebroadcast over the Internet.

Many Hollywood observers predict that the WGA won’t reach a deal with producers before its pact expires Oct. 31. That could lead to a strike.

Producers have accused WGA officials of destabilizing production in Hollywood by refusing to enter early negotiations. WGA officials have said they’re prepared to begin talks in July. The actors’ contract expires in June 2008.

Variety: SAG, WGA West get friendly

In 2004, SAG and the WGA were not in synch as SAG’s leaders opted for a one-year extension, leading the WGA negotiating fruitlessly and leaving the DGA to make a three-year deal that didn’t include any hike in the DVD residual formula. The WGA and SAG then followed with similar three-year deals.

Leaders of both guilds have insisted they don’t want a strike, but producers and the AMPTP have been aggrieved over the WGA opting to wait until July to start negotiations due to the uncertainty created by the ongoing prospect of a work stoppage.

Neither the DGA nor AFTRA were included in Friday’s meeting. The DGA has tended to play its cards close to the vest and is viewed by producers as the most pragmatic of the three major guilds.

As for AFTRA, its exclusion by SAG reflects ongoing tension between the two performers unions on long-standing jurisdictional problems.

Hollywood Reporter: SAG, WGA warming up for AMPTP talks

No representatives of the DGA or AFTRA attended the Friday meeting, sources said, but it wasn’t clear whether invitations had been extended to those unions. The DGA tends to be a bit independent, but AFTRA for decades has negotiated jointly with SAG on the all-important film and TV agreement.

One well-placed industryite suggested that AFTRA’s absence from Friday’s meeting underscores the growing rift between leaders of that union and those at SAG. For years, SAG activists have complained bitterly about AFTRA’s organizing of TV segments seen as core to SAG’s own activities, and they also grouse that AFTRA tends to settle for lesser terms than SAG in bargaining agreements.

To date, talent is often refused any payment for entertainment content that is re-used over the Internet or on mobile platforms like cell phones, with studios and networks characterizing such uses as promotional and excluded from current collective bargaining agreements. The guilds have been clear about wanting to establish lucrative new minimums guaranteeing payment for all such re-usage.

Guilds tried unsuccessfully to get the home video formula improved three years ago in the last round of film and TV talks, and many observers see labor’s push for greater new-media compensation as similarly central to the next round of collective bargaining.

Hollywood Reporter and Variety have near identical leads as they describe the WGA’s early effort at weathering the impending negotiation storm. WGA leader Wexler offers up some reassuring words for members:

Variety: WGA tells members not to worry

Albers and Verrone dubbed stockpiling a “scare tactic” and “myth” in the missive.

“Network showrunners are telling us they couldn’t stockpile even if they wanted to, but that they aren’t even being asked,” Albers and Verrone said. “Pilot production is moving at its typical speed, and there is no increase in the number of new reality shows being ordered. Even high-budget cable shows that could be used to fill a network programming void are showing no signs of accelerated production.”

Hollywood Reporter: WGA officials fend off the hoard; Says stockpiling doesn’t work, isn’t occurring anyway

In a “Message From the President” e-mail signed by WGA West president Patric Verrone and WGA East president Chris Albers, the guild leaders argue that historical evidence shows that studio stockpiling of film and TV materials does little to forestall the prospect of a labor strike. And besides, there’s no real stockpiling going on yet, they added.

“Our research department has carefully analyzed employment and production data from 2001,” the letter said, referring to the last time studios claimed to stockpile material to undermine the WGA in the run-up to contract negotiations. “It shows that production was ramped up in the months before the contract expiration date and that there was a slight slowdown in the months after the contract was settled,” the presidents added. “However, in spite of the different timing of production, the overall economic impact was negligible. In fact, 2001 showed an increase in writer earnings from the year before.”

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