WGA-AMPTP negotiations break down


The AMPTP late Friday declared a breakdown in negotiations and walked away from talks with WGA. The breakdown came after a tough week of talks that moved progress actually backward, rather than forward. The studios’ negotiator Nicholas Counter reportedly sent a letter to WGA counterpart, David Young, demanding that the writers withdraw a number of proposals before talks resume: Internet compensation; jurisdiction issues involving reality and animation writers; the WGA’s desire to get a portion of ad revenue from Internet streaming; and a proposal to remove a clause from the current contract that prevents writers from joining strikes by other unions.

Said Counter: "We are leaving. When you write us a letter saying you will take all these items off the table, we will reschedule negotiations with you."
This latest round lasted for eight days.

The AMPTP statement:
"We’re disappointed to report that talks between the AMPTP and WGA have broken down yet again.  Quite frankly, we’re puzzled and disheartened by an ongoing WGA negotiating strategy that seems designed to delay or derail talks rather than facilitate an end to this strike.  Union negotiators in our industry have successfully concluded 306 major agreements with the AMPTP since its inception in 1982.  The WGA organizers sitting across the table from us have never concluded even one industry accord. 

We believe our New Economic Partnership proposal, which would increase the average working writer’s salary to more than $230,000 a year, makes it possible to find common ground.  And we have proved over the last five months that we want writers to participate in producers’ revenues, including in theatrical and television streaming, as well as other areas of new media.  However, under no circumstances will we knowingly participate in the destruction of this business.

While the WGA’s organizers can clearly stage rallies, concerts and mock exorcisms, we have serious concerns about whether they’re capable of reaching reasonable compromises that are in the best interests of our entire industry.  It is now absolutely clear that the WGA’s organizers are determined to advance their own political ideologies and personal agendas at the expense of working writers and every other working person who depends on our industry for their livelihoods.

Instead of negotiating, the WGA organizers have made unreasonable demands that are roadblocks to real progress:

— They demand full control over reality television and animation.  In other words, they want us to make membership in their union mandatory to work in this industry – even though thousands of people in reality and animation have already chosen not to join the WGA.

— They demand restrictions designed to prevent networks from airing any reality programs unless they are produced under terms in keeping with the WGA agreement.  This would apply even to producers who are not associated with the Guild.  Their proposal artificially limits competition and most likely would not withstand legal challenge.

— The WGA organizers are demanding the right to ignore their bargained “no strike” provision, allowing them to join in strikes of other labor organizations.

— Their proposal for Internet compensation could actually cost producers more than they receive in revenues, thereby dooming the Internet media business before it ever gets started.

— They insist that writers receive a piece of advertising revenue – even though the producers that pay them don’t receive any of this revenue in the first place.

— They want a third party to set an artificial value on transactions, rather that allowing the market to determine the worth of each transaction.  This would result in producers having to pay residuals on money that the producers never even received.

These are the terms the WGA organizers demand for ending the strike – money that doesn’t exist, restrictions that are legally dubious, and control over people who have refused to join their union.
Besides betraying a fundamental misunderstanding of the economics of new media, such as a streaming proposal that would require us to give them more money than we make ourselves, the WGA organizers are on an ideological mission far removed from the interests of their members.

Their Quixotic pursuit of radical demands led them to begin this strike, and now has caused this breakdown in negotiations.  We hope that the WGA will come back to this table with a rational plan that can lead us to a fair and equitable resolution to a strike that is causing so much distress for so many people in our industry and community."

TVBR observation: See our related story about reality readiness for midseason. Bottom line, the networks and studios have already planned for midseason changes to accommodate a long strike. Agencies and advertisers will still buy television, but less of it. With less expensive production costs on reality shows (and obviously the cheap ride with repeats), studios might actually be anticipating a more profitable 2008, who knows. Obviously, the studios and networks feel they can ride this one out, as the WGA strike money will be running out as well. It’s a game of chicken that AMPTP thinks it can win. If the timing of all of this were eight months ago, things might be different. What a mess in Hollywood—a lot of money and jobs are going to be lost if this isn’t solved soon.