Saturday, November 03, 2007


What is the dispute between writers and producers about?

The Writers Guild has for many years attempted to engage the companies who employ writers in a serious conversation regarding fair compensation for use of our work in the new media (which refers to all digital delivery systems: internet, cell-phones, etc.). During those years, Internet streaming became commonplace, the word webisode appeared in dictionaries, and Tivo-like delivery systems started to explore their full potential with the ultimate goal of one day replacing DVD’s.

In addition, the Guild has also attempted to right the unfair labor practices of non-union companies who exploit writers on the so-called “reality” shows (that actually involve a lot of writing, some of which is done by WGA members), interventions that bore fruit in hearings before the National Labor Relations Board, who ruled in the Guild’s favor. They have tried to extend to those writers a more secure future under a WGA contract.

During the latest contract negotiations, the AMPTP steadfastly refused to address any of these issues: including the setting of minimum compensation practices and benefits, even though these minimums and benefits in traditional television and theatrical movies have assured decades of peace and prosperity for the studios and the networks.

Every businessman knows that once a business model is in place, it is extremely difficult to change. The WGA is only the first of the major guilds to ask that their members be fairly included in that new business model. While the AMPTP stalled for years, the future arrived on all of our doorsteps. It must be dealt with…now.

Couldn’t the WGA have settled this without a work stoppage? The AMPTP says it has been ready to negotiate all along.

The producers made this strike inevitable, not the writers. In fact, their negotiators seemed determined to provoke a work stoppage.

AMPTP negotiators proposed more than 170 million dollars in cuts to the writers’ existing deferred payment schedules – residuals. And when they removed a few of these insulting proposals at the eleventh hour, they seemed to think their negotiating was finished…when it point of fact, it never started. Not one single issue that writers deem important was ever addressed.

I’ve heard that working writers don’t support the WGA strike, which is driven by the large percentage of unemployed members in the Guild.

The WGA Negotiating Committee is comprised of many successful working writers, and the vast majority of working WGA members supports this work action.

For a year leading up to the current contract negotiations, working writers of theatrical movies, television drama and comedy, game shows, documentaries and the so-called “reality” shows came together in living rooms across the Southland and across the nation as part of the Writers Guild Outreach Program. They met with Guild officers and the chief negotiator. They listened; they gave their input, and their support.

Many working writers have already watched their shows go out over the Internet with no fair and reasonable compensation agreement in place. Without set minimums, pension and health coverage, they fear that their livelihoods will be seriously undermined. They look at the non-union reality shows--where writers work long hours with no overtime compensation, no pension or health benefits, and no chance to share in any deferred payment package--and see the future the AMPTP has in mind for them.

Working writers envision another, brighter future. They know that the disappearance of the DVD market is inevitable, but they’re excited by the tremendous opportunities for fairly compensated employment in the new media, where series and movies may soon be created solely for the Internet.

I’ve read that restaurant workers, equipment rental firms, limousine drivers, not to mention thousands of workers in the film and television industry, will be hurt by the Writers’ strike. How can writers be so heartless?

Writers read these articles in the newspapers, too, and it does bother them. But they also note the irony that a writers’ strike seems to be the only time they’re given credit as one of the main support pillars of a 30 billion dollar industry: a fact their employers often seem to forget.

If writers lose access to the income streams and the benefit packages that have kept them working here, many will leave the industry, and Southern California: to be followed by working class actors and directors, who will see their own hopes for the future evaporate if the industry gets its way in denying residuals for work in new media..

If that happens, the impact on Southern California’s economy will be devastating.

I’ve heard that Hollywood writers are rich? How wealthy are they?

Here are a few statistics to consider:

  • 48% of the WGA membership is currently unemployed. That means, at any given time, nearly half of all writers DO NOT EARN ANY MONEY AT ALL.

During periods of unemployment, many members depend on the residuals they receive for previously produced work. This is why it is absolutely essential that writers receive fair and just compensation for the use and re-use of their work on the Internet. In the future, it is possible that downloads of writers’ work via the Internet will become the sole source of residuals.

  • According to the WGA 2007 Annual Report of the 52% of members who ARE working, one quarter earn less than $37,700 a year.
  • The MEDIAN income of ALL members of the Writers Guild is only $5,000.

But of course that doesn’t tell the whole story. As with any group of professionals, a bell curve graph of all working writers would show the “working poor” on one end, the vast “middle class” in and around the bulging center, and the financially successful writers (who, by creating series or writing hit films, thereby create many thousands of jobs) on the other end. The only thing extraordinary about this group of professionals is that they are ALL members of one union, and proud of it.

I read in Variety that the WGA has alienated its sister unions. Is this true?

It’s said that generals are often still fighting the last war, not the one they’re currently engaged in. This also applies to journalists who haul out facts that may have been true in the past, but are now demonstrably false.

During this most recent contract dispute, SAG leadership has expressed continuous support for the Writers’ Guilds efforts to secure a fair contract. The president of SAG read a strong letter of support from their board at the WGA’s General Meeting. Their members are aware that, historically, employers try to pick off, then weaken—and if possible, destroy—one union at a time.

The DGA, although comprised of assistant directors and production managers as well as directors, continues to express interest in the outcome of our work action, knowing they’ll soon be sitting across the table from the AMPTP. If producers and studios become emboldened by our prospective defeat, they’ll demand draconian rollbacks from Directors Guild members as well.

Concerned members in both of these guilds know that what we gain for ourselves, we gain for them. But they’re also aware that if we lose the fight over issues of mutual importance, the also stand to lose…perhaps forever.

The Teamsters strongly support us. Although they have no immediate interest in the specifics of our contract dispute, they know that a receding tide strands all boats.

Writers consider themselves just one part of an amazing community made up of artisans, craftsman, executives and producers. We have forged a powerful alliance with other unions, who see our efforts as a positive step toward maintaining the healthy, stable and robust industry it's many stakeholders enjoy.