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Writers Strike Fears Put Hollywood on High Alert as Studios Prep Plans

Variety logo Variety 4/28/2017 Dave McNary
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Hollywood is dealing with strike fever again, 10 years after the Writers Guild of America staged an acrimonious 100-day work stoppage.

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and the NFL Players Assn. both issued strong statements of support Thursday. AFl-CIO President Richard Trumka cited WGA estimates that the major entertainment conglomerates made $51 billion in profits last year.

“The members of the Writers Guilds deserve a fair return on their work at an incredibly profitable time for their industry,” he said.

With five days left before the contract expires, sources indicate that the talks are likely to go on all weekend and into Monday. There have been no public comments from either side during the three days of negotiations this week at the headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers as both camps are observing a media blackout.

The scenario of a strike has sounded plenty of alarms with studios now planning for amped-up security on May 2 along with starting to craft internal memos to inform employees how to deal with multiple contingencies. Late-night talk shows and soap operas would go off the air that Tuesday. Depending on who you ask, the level of concern is either as high as it was 10 years ago or nowhere near what it was in 2007.

“Ten years ago, I would get a phone call from a client or a producer every five or 10 minutes,” one prominent manager told Variety. “That’s not the case this time.”

The bluster from both sides that accompanied the run-up to the 2007 strike has been absent this week after the WGA received a 96.3% backing from its members for a strike authorization on April 24. Attorney Dan Stone of Greenberg Glusker told Variety that the situation is difficult to predict.

“My impression is that the tenor of the talks has become less aggressive during this week,” he noted. “It’s very tough to tell how this is going to turn out. The hope is that no one really wants to go on strike.”

Stone, the former assistant general counsel at the Directors Guild of America, noted that negotiators are dealing with complex scenarios.

“My best guess is that reaching a deal is difficult because the WGA is asking for more than just the standard 3% increase in compensation,” he said. “And the WGA’s projected deficit in the health plan is a big one — $65 million in 2020 alone. That’s a lot of money for the companies to make up.”

SAG-AFTRA, which is a member of the AFL-CIO, has not issued a statement. Local 399 of the Intl. Brotherhood of Teamsters, which covers 4,000 drivers, location managers and casting directors in Hollywood, reminded members Thursday that there’s no strike yet via an announcement on its website:

“The current WGA agreement with the AMPTP does not expire until 12:01 a.m., Tuesday, May 2, 2017. The parties are currently at the bargaining table. It is our hope that both sides can come to an agreement before expiration of the current agreement. Local 399 will keep its’ Members informed utilizing all of our communication channels” said Steve Dayan, Secretary-Treasurer.

Ten years ago, then secretary-treasurer Leo Reed of Teamsters Local 399 advised members before the strike began that they should honor WGA picket lines as long as they were acting as individuals. Reed said Local 399 could not strike, picket or boycott a producer while its contract was in effect and had to use its “best efforts” to get employees to perform — but added that those restrictions did not apply to individuals.

“As for me as an individual, I will not cross any picket line whether it is sanctioned or not because I firmly believe that Teamsters do not cross picket lines,” Reed said in the message.

Some Teamsters honored the picket lines, which started on Nov. 5 in Los Angeles and New York and were repeated hundreds of times during the strike. The WGA organized impressive rallies in Century City and on Hollywood Boulevard — both drawing several thousand supporters.

No plans have emerged yet for similar demonstrations next week.

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