by Larry Brody
It’s been a hell of a week in the WGA-ATA War. Here are just some of the latest developments:
From the WGAW (of which I am a member, in case you’re wondering where my soul – not merely my “sympathies” – lies):
June 28, 2019
For 15 months, the WGA consistently told the ATA and major agencies what writers must have: proper fiduciary representation. We remain ready to negotiate from this fundamental principle, and yesterday made another proposal. For 15 months the response, always through the ATA, was that the agencies will continue packaging fees and production arms, and will hide how much they make by these practices. They claim we don’t know what is good for us as writers, and that they know better than Guild leaders and 95.3% of members what kind of representation we deserve.
The Negotiating Committee and elected leadership finally had enough and informed each unfranchised agency we would no longer attempt to bargain a new agency agreement with the ATA since the process has proven unfruitful. Instead, we told them we would now bargain with each individual agency. In response, the agencies, clearly collaborating through the ATA, refused the offer and stated they would only negotiate through the ATA. The other response was to file two meritless antitrust lawsuits earlier this week.
Under labor and antitrust law the ATA’s right to negotiate with the Guild existed only because the Guild consented and, in doing so, extended legal protection to the ATA. But that accommodation is not the norm. Trade associations such as the ATA don’t typically have the right to bargain for their members as a group; such bargaining is usually an illegal restraint of trade. Because it’s now clear that the ATA is, in fact, the source of restraint of trade within the agency community, we will no longer facilitate that obstacle to a fair agreement.
For this reason, the ATA and the eight agencies that comprise its negotiating committee (CAA, UTA, WME, ICM, APA, Gersh, Paradigm, Kaplan Stahler), received a cease and desist letter today (linked here). It demonstrates from an antitrust perspective, the agencies and ATA are engaged in:
- Price fixing “standard” 3-3-10 packaging fees
- Collusively deciding how to split packaging fees
- Unlawfully refusing to deal with the WGA except through the ATA
We remain available to bargain reasonable, fair terms. But we’re not going to sit back and allow agencies to accuse us in a court of law of the very things they are doing. Packaging fees are illegal, and in practice also an illegal form of price fixing. Any competent observer can corroborate these facts.
We continue to stand ready to negotiate with any agency.
WGA-Agency Agreement Negotiating Committee
WGA Statement of Purpose: Why Agencies Must Change
Our agents work for us. Every dollar they make must be generated as a percentage of the money we make. That is what it means to be our representatives and our fiduciaries. Agency-based studios and packaging fees make a mockery of that and are in violation of the agencies’ ethical and legal obligations to writers. We have taken too long to demand that these practices end. But the persistence of a corrupt system does not make it right. And putting things right does not blow up the business. We do not owe our agents their wealth; they owe us their loyalty. That is what we pay for. In a complex, changing, yet immensely profitable time in our industry, writers need true allies, not deeply conflicted ones. It is for this idea—simple, old-fashioned and un-revolutionary—that we stand—and for which we come together as a Guild again today.
Here’s just some of last week’s most interesting coverage: