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WGA Strike story

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By Jack Egan
Amid rising collateral damage, the strike launched by the Writers Guild of America against the studios headed into its third week with few signs that it will end soon. The pessimistic view is that the acrimonious strike�the first writers� walkout to hit Hollywood in nearly 20 years�will stretch at least through the holidays and into 2008. How long it takes to reach a settlement is anybody�s guess.
Following the 11th hour breakdown in talks Nov. 4 between the WGA and the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios, attempts to get the parties back to the negotiating table have so far hit a brick wall.
At the core of the dispute are demands by writers to receive residuals on their work when it is made available on new platforms such as the internet or cellphones. The members of AMPTP claim they don�t know how much money will come from these new technologies. The writers recall that this is the same argument that the studios made when videotape and DVDs were introduced. The WGA still rues the modest residuals it agreed to for its members in both cases.
The presence of a federal mediator, offers from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to help reach a settlement, separate meetings with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and rumors of back-channel efforts to get the talks back on track have thus far yielded no results.
With both sides trading accusations while attempting to inflict maximum pain on each other in what is shaping up to be a war of attrition, the lack of progress in getting talks restarted is beginning to trigger a backlash from thousands of entertainment industry workers and numerous businesses that feel caught in the crossfire, facing layoffs and revenue losses that are just starting to mount.
Because of the strike, top vendor Panavision has announced it is shutting down for almost two weeks, from Dec. 17 to Jan. 2. That means many employees there will be getting one or two weeks of leave during the holidays without pay.
The sharpest criticism to date was leveled by Thomas Short, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents most of the craft guilds and has about 50,000 members who crew the industry�s movies and television shows.
In a Nov. 13 letter to WGA West president Patric Verrone, Short charged that the leadership of the Writer�s Guild had put off serious negotiations until just before the expiration of their contract at the end of October. �It now seems that you were intending that there be a strike no matter what you were offered, or what conditions the industry faced when the contract expired,� he stated.
Verrone, who has locked horns repeatedly with Short over the past 12 months on issues such as the right to organize workers on reality television shows and jurisdiction over animation employees, responded in a letter to Short that tried to turn down the temperature by appealing to his sense of union solidarity.
�To put it simply, our fight should be your fight,� wrote Verrone. �We�ve received support from the Teamsters, the actors, many IATSE members, and unions throughout the world.� Verrone insisted the WGA wanted to resume talks with AMPTP as soon as possible to work out a settlement �Despite the fact that the AMPTP conceded progress was being made on November 4th, the last day of negotiations,� the WGAw president wrote, �they walked out and have not returned.�
Short, for his part, predicted the strike could cost the movie and TV industry more than $1 billion and result in �the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.� Some of Short�s ire stems from a phone conversation with Verrone a year ago in which he asked that the WGA not delay the start of negotiations with AMPTP, which were then scheduled to start in January 2007. �I have warned you and predicted the devastation that would come from your actions,� adding �those predictions have now come true.�
Short�s letter to Verrone concluded with a plea: �It�s time to put egos aside and recognize how crucial it is to get everyone back to work before there is irreversible damage from which the industry can never recover.�
There was another twist in the tit-for-tat between the WGA and the IA. By coincidence Broadway, for the most part, has gone dark in recent weeks, because of a strike by stagehands against theater owners. And it was Short who led the walkout of the IATSE stagehands when negotiations faltered. Verrone and Michael Winship, president of the WGA East sent a letter of support to James Claffey, president of the IATSE local in New York. The stagehand leadership, for its part, criticized the WGA for striking the movie and television business.
Besides broad backing from members of the Screen Actors Guild, with many of its most prominent actors walking the picket lines with the writers, there were statements of moral support from other groups in town. But some simultaneously lamented the serious fallout that had already been caused by the walkout.
�We definitely have feelings for what the writers are going through and we wish them all the luck in the world,� said Jeff Okun, chairman of the Visual Effects Society. �But we wish they could solve this thing really soon because it�s going to have far-reaching implications not only for them but for the entire business and more specifically to us.�
Many of the special effects professionals work on the big-budget tentpole movies that come out in the summer. When the writers went on strike, �they affected the cycle so that everything is being accelerated,� Okun noted. �Come next summer when the workload drops off there are many companies that will be going out of business.�

Written by Jack Egan

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