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WGA Ratifies New Film & TV Contract

Deadline logo Deadline 5/24/2017 David Robb
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Ratification of the new three-year WGA film and TV contract has been overwhelmingly — almost unanimously — approved by members of the WGA East and West, bringing to a close Hollywood’s most contentious contract struggle in a decade. Of the 3,647 valid votes cast there were 3,617 “yes” votes (99.2%) and 30 “no” votes (.8%). There were 9,441 eligible voters. The term of the agreement is from May 2, 2017 through May 1, 2020.

“Our success in these negotiations was due to a highly engaged and dedicated membership, working in tandem with a tireless and informed Negotiating Committee and an extraordinary Guild staff. We achieved new and significant gains that will help today’s writers even as they benefit the next generation,” said WGAW President Howard A. Rodman and WGAE President Michael Winship. “Our thanks go out to all of those who contributed to the process and to the thousands of our fellow writers who participated in the strike authorization and ratification votes.”

Conducted amidst a blizzard of news coverage despite a so-called “media blackout,” the negotiations had all the drama of a well-written potboiler, with the industry bracing for a threatened strike as negotiations came down to the wire on May 1. A deal was reached and a strike averted, however, just after the midnight expiration of the old contract. Guild leaders unanimously recommended ratification, and now have an agreement that’s widely seen as a win-win for both sides.

Getting there was no cakewalk, however, with each side tossing around dubious numbers to support their bargaining positions. Going into the talks, WGA leaders rallied their troops by accusing the major companies of stingily holding onto $49 billion in annual operating profits they’d made off the sweat of writers – monies that included profits from news operations, Disney Cruises and a host of other ancillary businesses that have nothing to do with film and TV writers or their contract.

For their part, the companies warned that the last WGA strike – a 100-day walkout in 2007-08 – cost writers $287 million in compensation “that was never recovered” – a claim that isn’t supported by the WGA’s earnings data. Crying poor, the guild claimed that the average income of TV writers has been in decline over the last decade – a claim that’s also not supported by the WGA’s earnings data.

When the talks stalled after two weeks of bargaining, the guilds asked for and received strike authorization from their members, which was granted near-unanimously after a series of raucous and unifying membership meetings.

When the talks resumed, both sides vowed to do everything in their power to avert a strike, and they did. In the end, the WGA got most of what it wanted going into the talks: a rescue of its ailing health plan; new provisions to address inequities in the new norm of short-order television seasons; a 15% increase in residuals from pay TV; some $15 million more in residuals from high-budget SVOD shows; across the board increases in minimums, and for the first time ever, residuals for comedy writers employed on pay TV comedy-variety shows.

“Did we get everything we wanted? No,” guild leaders told their members shortly after the deal was reached. “Everything we deserve? Certainly not. But because we had the near-unanimous backing of you and your fellow writers, we were able to achieve a deal that will net this guild’s members $130 million more, over the life of the contract, than the pattern we were expected to accept.”

The clear implication is that the WGA pact is worth $130 million more than the recent DGA contract, which set the pattern of bargaining for both the WGA’s negotiations and for SAG-AFTRA’s upcoming contract talks.

The WGA has since declined to provide any breakdown of that $130 million figure, telling Deadline that “It was calculated by costing out the non-pattern parts of the deal over three years.”

Knowledgeable sources familiar with the DGA and WGA deals, however, tell Deadline that that number is wildly inflated, and that while the WGA got a “good deal,” it’s really no better than the deal reached by the DGA last December.

Indeed, they say that directors got a better deal than writers in numerous areas that the two contracts have in common, including: the overall increase in minimums, for which the WGA had to defer a good portion to bail out its health plan; the initial compensation and residuals for high-budget SVOD series and made-for SVOD movies, and pay TV residuals – for which the WGA is still straddled with an inferior flat-rate deal it got after an ill-advised strike in the 1980s instead of the DGA’s more forward-thinking and lucrative deal based on the number of subscribers.

Boasting of a deal that’s $130 million better than the deal the DGA got may look good in news accounts – and to the WGA’s members – but it’s not a real number, and could threaten to skew the expectations of SAG-AFTRA, which is already in preliminary talks with management’s AMPTP in advance of full-blown negotiations that are set to begin one week from today.

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