by Larry Brody
As usual (don’t trust us, google Writers Guild of America AMPTP negotiations over the past two decades and see for yourself), the AMPTP is stonewalling the Writers Guild on all fronts during the early negotiations.
It’s a thing they do because, well, because they think it shows the contempt they feel for our oh-so-unnecessary-selves. (“We don’t really need writers because any one of us could do what they do if we just had the time” has been a mantra since the early days of silent films.)
To me, what they’re demonstrating is just the opposite. Not contempt but fear because only we writers can do what they can’t. I can’t prove it, but I don’t believe there’s a single studio, network, or production company who hasn’t at some time tried to write a script…and failed miserably.
So they try to bully us into “submission” by blowing off our proposals and calling for cutbacks in the current pension and health plans.
The result of their tactics was inevitable. Here’s the latest email on the subject from the WGAW and WGAE:
March 24, 2017
The initial two-week bargaining period agreed to by your Guild and the AMPTP concludes at the end of the day today. We do not yet have a deal. We will continue to bargain in good faith to make such a deal. But, at this point, we want to let you know where we stand.
We began the negotiations with two truths about the current state of the business at the heart of our proposals:
First, that these have been very profitable years for the companies. This past year they earned $51 billion in profits, a record.
Second, that the economic position of writers has declined sharply in the last five or so years. Screenwriters have been struggling for a long time. They are now joined by television writers, for whom short seasons are at the core of the problem. In the last two years alone, the average salary of TV writer-producers fell by 23%. Those declines have not been offset by compensation in other areas. In Basic Cable and new media, our script fees and residual formulas continue to trail far behind those in broadcast – even though these new platforms are every bit as profitable as the old model.
In light of all this, we sought to tackle a number of issues that directly affect the livelihoods of all writers.
–We asked for modest gains for screenwriters, most particularly a guaranteed second-step for writers earning below a certain compensation level.
–We asked for a rational policy on family leave.
–We sought to address chronically low pay for Comedy Variety writers.
–We asked for 3% increases in minimums – and increases in the residual formula for High Budget SVOD programs commensurate with industry standards.
–We made a comprehensive proposal to deal with the pernicious effects of short seasons. This included a limit on the amortization of episodic fees to two weeks, a proposal that sought to replicate the standard that had been accepted in the business for decades. It addressed, as well, the continued problems with Options and Exclusivity. And it sought to address the MBA’s outdated schedule of weekly minimums, which no longer adequately compensates writers for short terms of work.
–Finally, we sought to address script fee issues – in basic cable and streaming – but also in the case of Staff Writers. Unconscionably, our lowest paid members are now often held at the staff level for multiple seasons, with no compensation for the scripts they write.
What was the companies’ response to these proposals?
No, in virtually every case.
–Nothing for screenwriters. Nothing for Staff Writers. Nothing on diversity.
–On Family Leave they rejected our proposal and simply pledged to obey all applicable State and Federal laws – as if breaking the law were ever an option.
–On short seasons, they offered a counter-proposal that addressed the issue in name only – thus helping no one.
–They have yet to offer anything on minimums, or on HBSVOD.
–They have made some small moves on Options & Exclusivity – some small moves for Comedy Variety writers in Pay TV. But that is all.
On the last day of these two weeks, the companies’ proposal has barely a single hard-dollar gain for writers.
$51 billion in profits and barely a penny for those of us who make the product that makes the companies rich. But that’s not all.
In response to our proposal to protect our Pension and Health Plans, this has been their answer:
Nothing on Pension.
And on our Health Plan, two big rollbacks.
First, they have demanded that we make cuts to the plan – $10 million in the first year alone. In return, they will allow us to fund the plan with money diverted from our own salaries.
More, they’ve demanded the adoption of a draconian measure in which any future shortfalls to the plan would be made up by automatic cuts in benefits – and never by increases in employer contributions.
This, too, is unacceptable. The package, taken as a whole, is unacceptable – and we would be derelict in our duty if we accepted it.
Therefore, your Negotiating Committee has voted unanimously to recommend that the WGAW Board of Directors and WGAE Council conduct a strike authorization vote by the membership.
Once again, we are committed to continue negotiating with the companies in good faith to get you the deal we all deserve. We will continue to update you as things progress.
The Negotiating Committee Members of the WGA West and WGA East
Chip Johannessen, Co-Chair
Chris Keyser, Co-Chair
Billy Ray, Co-Chair
Alfredo Barrios, Jr.
Howard Michael Gould
Patric M. Verrone
Howard A. Rodman, WGAW President, ex-officio
Michael Winship, WGAE President, ex-officio
David A. Goodman, WGAW Vice President, ex-officio
Jeremy Pikser, WGAE Vice President, ex-officio
Aaron Mendelsohn, WGAW Secretary-Treasurer, ex-officio
Bob Schneider, WGAE Secretary-Treasurer, ex-officio
Here’s another, more detailed analysis of the situation than my intro, from Facebook friend Micah Ian Wright:
And just like that, Hollywood’s TV Distributors slit their own throats. They survived a strike in 2007-8 by airing lame gameshows and reality shows. Audiences put up with that because there were few other options for viewers. Today, however, there’s Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, where viewers can go to watch a bunch of new (and old, and British, and Swedish and Israeli, etc.) TV shows, many of them far better than what ABC/NBC/etc. are putting on the air.
Worse for the AMPTP, today’s business market is massively different. Global TV licensing has grown 320% since 2008. Today 40% of the AMPTP’s profit comes from global licensing of scripted entertainment. No one in Germany wants to watch “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” or “The Weakest Link” — they can produce domestic versions of that kind of low-budget dreck themselves. They can’t make “House of Cards” or “Game of Thrones” themselves, however, so the AMPTP is playing a very dangerous game by egging us toward a strike.
I know this is the Era Of Trump where rich corporations imagine they have the freedom to crush unions and steal all the cash for themselves, but they’re forgetting that he actually lost the popular vote by quite a wide margin and that he’s more unpopular than ever. These companies GAVE Trump $4 Billion in free airtime and helped elect him president. We haven’t forgotten that, and we aren’t inclined to cut them any breaks for helping foist this dictator upon us, hoping he’d make it easier for them to scalp their employees and loot their pension funds.
They have unprecedented profits built on our labor. They can share that money or feel our pain.