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Union Roundup: Successful negotiations in Hollywood!


only, not the ones you were thinking of. From the latest print issue of BTL:

Union Roundup
Mark London Williams

We are pleased to lead off this edition’s column by reporting the successful conclusion of labor negotiations in Hollywood, as well as a large decision going the Writers Guild’s way on the subject of “new media” compensation – none of which means we are any closer to avoiding a colossal strike/shutdown than we were last column!

To wit: Imagi Studios – the Hong Kong-funded animation studios, behind the recent reboot of the “Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles” franchise – has reached an agreement with IA Local 839, the animation guild, covering writers, storyboard artists and designers.

A ninja mutant negotiated turtle

In public statements, Kevin Koch, president of the local talked about – hold on to your metaphorical hats – “the ease of the negotiations,” saying that “this contract shows how serious Imagi is about competing in the feature film arena.”

Could the AMPTP catch a clue – that a willingness to undertake successful, as opposed to almost immediately doomed – negotiations signals an actual willingness to keep your business thriving?

But then again, as noted before, film companies aren’t just stand-alone entities interested in a single business – they are “divisions” of larger trans-national conglomerates, interested in, well “bottom lines.”

Such as GE, which owns NBC/Universal. That would be the same NBC/Universal which became quite splenetic when writers on shows that it owns had the temerity to ask for extra compensation when called upon to do “webisodes” of popular NBC and U-owned cable TV shows.

The company went all the way to the National Labor Relations Board, which, being stacked by Bush appointees, rarely finds an employee grievance worth siding with. Though in this case, they didn’t like NBC’s grievance either. As “Broadcasting & Cable” reported it, the NLRB “dismissed a complaint brought against the Writers Guild of America West

“The complaint alleged that the WGAW pressured showrunners of NBC programs such as The Office and Heroes not to create ‘Webisodes,’ while the WGAW insisted that it was simply asking its members not to pursue the work until new-media employment terms were agreed upon.

“NBC U claimed that the guild had ‘illegally’ instructed its members not to work on the Web productions.”

This affirms an earlier ruling by NLRB judge Gregory Z. Meyerson, who said in February “that unions ‘have a First Amendment right to communicate with their members’ and failed to find evidence that the WGAW ‘restrained or coerced’ the showrunners in any way. A three-member NLRB panel agreed with the judge and dismissed NBC’s complaint.”

Columnist Paul Tenny, who covers Hollywood’s labor scene from outside Tinseltown, had additional background in a piece that ran on the Associated Content website:

“NBC has been perhaps the most combative in skirmishes with WGA over webisodes, and how they should be paid for. In October of last year, writers for the Scifi Channel’s hit drama ‘Battlestar Galactica’ refused to make more than the initial batch of webisodes they were told to create unless they were paid residuals and minimum wages in the same way they are paid for writing episodes for the television show itself.


”NBC seized the already-produced material from the producers and filed a complaint against the guild at the National Labor Relations Board,” which brings us full circle to the surprising dismissal of said complaint.

Of course, it’s possible this ruling-by-dismissal may put producers/owners – like GE – in a crankier mood over the whole residuals/new media aspect to the WGA negotiations – which, of course, are the main aspects.

And said producers, in these dog days of August, will now be returning to the bartering table since their main excuse for not doing so – concurrent negotiations with the Teamsters – is now resolved.

Local 399 came to agreement with the AMPTP on another three year contract covering not only drivers but electricians, plumbers, and others in allied locals. Details of the settlement were being withheld pending a ratification vote in the next few weeks.

But it all shows that sometimes, even in Hollywood, owners and workers can actually come to agreement on some things.

If there’s an incentive to do that. And for some, a strike isn’t such bad news. Take this article – “Hollywood Hiccups a Sunshine bonanza” – written by Aussie scribe Michael Bodey, for the Murdoch Rupert-owned publication, “The Australian:”

“AUSTRALIA is on track for a record level of foreign film and television production this year, even before the federal Government’s Australian Screen Production Incentives take effect.
“A confluence of events is likely to lead to a rush of foreign film production in Australia in the fiscal year 2007-08.

“Hollywood is gearing up for a hiatus from next July as contract renegotiations between actors, writers and directors’ guilds and producers are expected to lead to strikes. Studios are therefore keen to begin filming by March to conclude by July. The busiest spring quarter in Los Angeles since the previous strike threats in 2001 has two likely benefits for the Australian industry, whether or not the strikes proceed.

“Hollywood will soon reach its capacity, so it must look offshore for studios and locations. Besides, movies and TV shows in the works will require more post-production and other services, to the benefit of Australian effects houses such as Rising Sun Pictures. ‘We’re in the middle of the hugest flurry of bidding and budgeting in a long time,’ says Rising Sun’s Tony Clark.

“The introduction of the Government’s new offset incentives could not have come at a better time, adds Mark Woods, chief executive of industry lobby group Ausfilm. “

So there’s your in-a-nutshell moment. If you’re Rupert Murdoch, and you own Fox, it doesn’t much matter if there’s a slowdown in “Hollywood,” as such, since that’s more a concept than a locality, anyway. As long as you have “product” in the “pipeline” before the strike deadline, you can shoot – or finish – it elsewhere, and still fill up the small and large screens as necessary.

Sure, eventually the writers – and then actors – will need to be accommodated. But there’s no particular urgency.

Even the happily settled folks in Teamsters local 399 will find their negotiations temporarily for naught, if things shut down. Hardly a just reward.

But then, in this town, “just rewards” only accrue to a few.

Write Union Roundup: [email protected]

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