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WGA Commentary

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By Tim Day
Over the past month, you’ve seen and heard a lot about the Writers Guild strike. It’s in the papers, it’s on the news. It’s put a lot of our members out of work. Some IATSE and Teamster members support the writers; some think they should take the AMPTP’s latest offer and get the town back to work.
One of the things I hear the most from crew members is that it’s all about residuals. They say writers, actors and directors get residuals and the rest of us don’t, so why should we care whether the WGA gets residuals from the internet or on DVDs?
As a member of both the Writers Guild and IATSE, I’ll tell you why.
We should care because as IATSE and Teamster members we benefit from residuals as well. Don’t get me wrong. Residuals aren’t paid directly to each member of the below-the-line crew like they are to writers. But residuals are paid into both the IATSE and Teamsters pension and health plans. In fact, residuals are the main source of funding for both plans.
Over 55 percent of the money in the IATSE and Teamsters pension and health plans comes from residuals. For every four cents a writer receives from the sale of a DVD the IATSE pension and health plan gets 20 cents. In 2006, $339,000,000 was paid into our pension and health plans from residuals. Projected contributions from residuals for 2007 are $351,000,000.
And every union’s contract is linked. The AMPTP believes in what they call “pattern bargaining.” If one union agrees to something, they’ll insist the other unions take the same deal.
IATSE’s current basic agreement with the AMPTP, dated August 1, 2006, contains the following clause regarding residuals in supplemental markets:
“The bargaining parties agree that if any other Union or Guild negotiates as part of its collective bargaining agreement with the AMPTP residuals on product for iPods or similar devices, the Producers will meet with the IATSE to negotiate an appropriate residual formula.”
You can see why it’s important that the Writers Guild wins this fight: if they lose, we lose. If they can’t get the AMPTP to pay residuals on Internet downloads and streaming, then no one – not SAG or the DGA or us – will get them. With reruns moving more and more to the networks’ internet sites, residuals will drop to almost nothing. And since one of the things the AMPTP wants is the ability to declare anything shown on the internet to be “promotional” and not subject to residuals at all, then residuals could completely disappear.
As you read this, we are losing residuals on television shows like Grey’s Anatomy and The Office every time someone watches an episode on-line. Our pension and health plan doesn’t get a penny. And that’s the future, if someone doesn’t stand up and draw a line in the sand now. Well, the WGA is standing up and we should support them.
If residuals go away completely—and believe me, that’s what the studios want—we’ll lose half of the pension and health plan we have now. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I can retire on that.
So while some of you might not agree with how the writers are handling this strike (as for me, I think they’re doing a great job, finally acting like a union), the fight for residuals isn’t just an above-the-line fight. It’s a below-the-line fight, too. If they win, we win.
Tim Day is the Best Boy Grip on Grey’s Anatomy. He has been member of IATSE Local 80 for 13 years and a member of the WGA for 11 years. He recently adapted the James Patterson novel You’ve Been Warned for Lionsgate Films.

Written by Staff

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