The Writers Guild of America filed suit against the major talent agencies on Wednesday, continuing the conflict between the two. The lawsuit alleges that television packaging fees are a breach of fiduciary duty and an illegal kickback under federal and state statutes, including California’s Unfair Competition Law.
The suit looks to end packaging fees on new and existing series, and also disgorgement and restitution of packaging fees previously received by the agencies. The named defendants in the case are the major agencies, WME, CAA, UTA and ICM. The plaintiffs are the guild’s West and East branches and eight individual writers.
The eight individual writer plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Patti Carr, Ashley Gable, Barbara Hall, Deric Hughes, Chip Johannessen, Deirdre Mangan, David Simon and Meredith Stiehm. Hall and Stiehm, along with guild lawyers, spoke at the press conference. Others in attendance included WGA West executive director David Young and president David Goodman, neither of whom spoke.
The disputed practice, in which agencies are compensated by studios (their clients’ employers) rather than by commissioning the clients themselves, has been commonplace for roughly five decades and was permitted under a 1976 agreement between the WGA and the Association of Talent Agents that the guild terminated last Friday at midnight.
“This development is ironic given that the Guild itself has agreed to the legitimacy of packaging for more than 43 years,” said ATA executive director Karen Stuart in response to lawsuit. “Even more ironic is the fact that the statute the WGA is suing under prevents abuses of power and authority by labor union leaders, even as the Guild has intimidated its own members and repeatedly misled them about their lack of good faith in the negotiating room.”
In response, the WGA said, “This matter is very simple. If the major agencies would abide by existing law — antitrust and racketeering law — this deal would have been done 11 months ago. The ATA’s repeated use of anti-union rhetoric illustrates how much in denial the big agencies are.”
The story continues to develop. We will update with more information.
Olivia Gleichauf – Staff Editor