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Writers Guild of America Members Ratify New Three-Year Contract

Variety logo Variety 5/24/2017 Dave McNary
© Provided by Variety

Members of the Writers Guild of America have ratified nearly unanimously their new three-year successor deal on the guild’s master contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

Only 30 members voted “no.” Of the 3,647 valid votes cast, there were 3,617 “yes” votes (99.2%) and 30 “no” votes (0.8%). There were 9,441 eligible voters. The term of the agreement is retroactive to May 2 through May 1, 2020.

The WGA reached the deal on May 1 about an hour before the previous contact expired in down-to-the-wire negotiations.

“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 WGA West president Howard A. Rodman and WGA East 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.”

The WGA said Thursday that gains achieved in the new contract include safeguarding the solvency of the Health Plan, a new formula for increasing compensation for writers on short seasons, expansion of the limitations on options and exclusivity, increased residuals for made-for-pay TV programs and programs made for high budget subscription video on demand, and, for the first time ever in a WGA contract, a provision guaranteeing parental leave.

The negotiations between the sides were rocky from the start on March 13, breaking down twice. The WGA achieved significant changes in the compensation structure for short-order TV series, forcing the studios to recognize the financial strain for TV writers as the industry norm has shifted to shows with six-13 episodes per season rather than the broadcast norm of 22-24.

Over the course of the talks, the companies sweetened their offers on several contentious issues, including the writers’ health fund, and the compensation formula and short-order series issue that became known by the short-hand of “span.”

Hollywood’s fears of a strike were amped up last month when the WGA secured a whopping  96.3% “yes” vote by members authorizing their leaders to strike. The WGA repeatedly pointed to its calculation that the six major entertainment conglomerates generated $51 billion in operating profits during 2016 — including that figure in an April 28 message to members, estimating that it would cost employers $156 million annually to increase payments to writers under its proposal to production companies.

If the WGA had walked out, it would have been the guild’s seventh strike since 1960. The most recent strike was an acrimonious 100-day work stoppage, fueled by the WGA’s demand for new media residuals and jurisdiction. That strike started Nov. 5, 2007, and ended Feb. 12, 2008.

The WGA notified members on May 5 that the new deal included an $86 million hike in funds from employers for the guild’s troubled health plan. The guild’s summary said minimums will increase 2.0% in the first year of the contract, 2.5% in the second year, and 2.5% in the third year. And one of the key provisions, agreed to near the end of the negotiations, included the first-ever parental leave coverage of up to eight weeks.

The WGA had disclosed during during negotiations that its health plan had been losing money in recent years and issued a projection of a $65 million deficit in 2020.

The May 5 summary said the new deal will make the plan solvent. It said employer contributions to the fund would increase from 9.5% of writers’ gross compensation to 10.5% at the start of the agreement, then increase to 11.0% in the second year and to 11.5% in the final year — resulting in a total of $65 million in additional contributions. The guild also agreed to make cost savings of $7 million per year for the health fund, which has $150 million in annual spending.

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