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Writers Guild Sets Start Date for Contract Negotiations With Producers

Variety logo Variety 2/23/2017 Dave McNary
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The Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have set March 13 as the date for the start of negotiations on a successor deal to the master contract.

The talks will be held at AMPTP headquarters in Sherman Oaks. The current three-year contract expires on May 1.

The WGA is placing a premium on increasing coverage and compensation for writers in the digital arena, according to the union’s recent message to its 12,000 members. WGA leaders have also been stressing since last May that the guild deserves major increases in its deal.

“The $49 billion annual operating profit accumulated by the six major media companies with whom we will be negotiating is double what their profit numbers were only a decade ago,” a recent missive from the negotiating committee said. “Contrast that with the economic picture facing the members of our Guilds, whose average incomes in both features and series TV have actually decreased over that same decade. You’ve told Guild leadership in meetings and surveys that new models of development, production, and distribution — while making the companies richer — have not worked to your individual or collective advantage.”

The letter also said that members should contrast the companies’ prosperity with the state of guild’s health plan, which, due to rapid inflation in health care costs nationwide, has run deficits for all but one of the past four years, forcing a dip into long-untouched reserves.

“Getting our fair share will require resolve and solidarity and the willingness to fight if necessary,” the committee said. “But in a time of unprecedented profits for our industry, we believe it is our due.”

A decade ago, the WGA initiated a 100-day strike that had ripple effects across the industry, but also gave the creative guilds important gains in residuals, royalties, and jurisdiction for what was then the first flowering of made-for-digital entertainment. Subsequent negotiations in 2011 and 2014 were less acrimonious with the guild placing a premium on improvements in cable TV compensation.

This time around, as the volume of original series on Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. and the popularity of streaming of TV content has expanded to eye-popping levels, there are rumblings in some writers’ rooms that it’s time for the guild to push for significant gains on the digital front. It remains to be seen, however, if scribes are prepared to back the guild if strike talk becomes a reality, especially at a time when work in TV and digital is so abundant.

The Directors Guild of America achieved gains in streaming residuals in the new contract that the helmers reached in December, which signals that the AMPTP is ready to give something on the digital front, because the DGA typically sets the basic template that the AMPTP offers to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA. The DGA’s three-year deal was ratified by its members two weeks ago and takes effect on July 1.

The WGA’s pattern of demands include increased minimum compensation in all areas and increased residuals for “under-compensated reuse markets,” likely a reference to SVOD and ad-supported VOD platforms.

SAG-AFTRA has not yet set a date for its negotiations. The performer union’s current deal expires on June 30.

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