Morning and afternoon, at DreamWorks, Disney, Nick and other places, people ask me: "So, what's going on with the writers' strike?" Animation employees act as if I have special psychic abilities. Sadly, I don't.
All I've got is my classical cynicism and three decades of kicking around the trade union business and animation industry. Also what I've learned sitting through lots of negotiations.
What's most likely to happen is, the talks between the W.G.A. and the AMPTP -- kaput after the Alliance's walkout last Friday -- will stay kaput until next year. And Nick Counter and Co., collectively known as "the producers", will turn their attention to the Directors Guild of America. Sometime in mid or late January, the two sides will sit down, clear their throats, and negotiate a collective bargaining agreement.
(Update Again below.)
(Update Again Again ...)
Within one to three weeks, they'll have a deal. (The D.G.A. works quickly.) And the W.G.A. will likely not be happy with the outcome because the deal won't meet its own bottom line, and it will then be in a kind of a box. A new three-year agreement with a powerful, above-the-line guild will be out there as a reality. And like it or not, the W.G.A. will have to deal with it.
The D.G.A. won't care very much about bruised feelings. Like the IATSE, the Directors Guild marches to its own drummer. Its motto seems to be: "Negotiate early with maximum leverage. Get the best deal that the AMPTP is willing to accept." And it has one other internal rule: "Don't Strike."
How do I know this? I look at the D.G.A.'s history. In its 72-year existence, it's hit the bricks over a contract exactly once. And that "once" was a strike of under fifteen minutes duration.
Is this "no strike" thing the best strategy? Who the hell knows? It's the D.G.A.'s strategy, and the odds are excellent that it will be sticking with the regular game plan again this time around.
The D.G.A. understands it has maximum leverage right now. The Writers Guild is doing a job action and steadily shutting the industry down, and the producers are anxious to make a deal. The AMPTP wants a template it can shove down the throats of the other guilds. Besides which, the Alliance has been losing the P.R. war with the W.G.A. and having an agreement with the D.G.A. will help it regain a little ground, which will be icing on the producers' proverbial cake.
Of course, if one or both parties badly miscalculate ... and the D.G.A. and AMPTP don't reach a deal ... then we sail into fog-shrouded waters. And only God and his angelic minions will be able to calculate how long the three guilds might be out on strike. August 2008? Christmas? I shudder to think.
Assuming some blowup doesn't happen, here's what comes next: the WGA stays out until springtime, then the writers cease picketing -- long strikes are exhausting both physically and mentally -- and return to the bargaining table. After some back-and-forth, a new agreement is hammered out. SAG, seeing the framed deal-points on the wall, will make the tactical decision to forego a strike and fall in line with its fellow guilds.
And the town, slowly and fitfully, will get back to work.
Now. Is this the script I want to see happen? No. I desire that every union and guild get the lion's share of its demands (minus, for obvious reasons, the WGA gaining jurisdiction of animation.) I want to see everyone make more money, gain better pension and health benefits. I want to see everyone satisfied with the results.
But I know the way studios and unions operate, and I don't live in the Land of Wishful Thinking. (LOWT is a nice place to visit, but it messes up your head if you attempt to reside there). The guilds won't get everything they want. Not by a country mile.
In three to eight months, we'll see how close the actual results come to my prediction.
Update: Here's part of the Directors Guild of America's letter to members (courtesy of Nikki Finke and Deadline Hollywood.) Sound like their getting ready to wheel and deal?
... Traditionally our negotiations start early and usually are done by January. This has been our pattern for the past 20 years for a very simple reason: We believe -- and our experience shows -- that this is the most effective way to negotiate the best deal. The WGA has made a different decision on how to handle their negotiations. Out of respect for them, we have done what you asked for in your letter -- we have refrained from commencing our own negotiations. And, at the same time we have refrained from commenting publicly on our thoughts about the direction of their proposals and the progress of their negotiations.
But the reality is that WGA and the AMPTP have been meeting since July -- and, despite a strike that has put tens of thousands of people out of work, they seem nowhere near reaching a deal. Each passing day, more people are unemployed. We are getting calls from members who are worried about their economic livelihood and their families. We're sure you feel the same concern for yourselves and the people who work for you.
Because so much time has gone by without any resolution, we find ourselves faced with some hard questions. Is a fresh perspective -- and additional muscle -- needed to get the job done? Is it our turn to sit across the table from the AMPTP? ...
Uhm, I'm thinking yes.
Update Again: The DGA has issued a second missive, this one saying:
In order to give the WGA and the AMPTP one last chance to get back to the table, we will not schedule our negotiations to begin until after the New Year, and then only if an appropriate basis for negotiations can be established.
Are we crystalline? The DGA is going to stand clear of the WGA-AMPTP non-negotiations until after the Rose Bowl game. Which is what? Two and a half weeks from now? And everybody knows that the weeks from mid-Decenber to New Year's is the ripest time to negotiate a contract, since nothing else is going on ...
Update Again Again: And now the WGA has filed an Unfair Labor Practice against the AMPTP (posted on Deadline Hollywood.) And a commenter opines, "Wow! This is huge!"
Actually what it is, is a public relations move. Take it from somebody who's filed Unfair Labor Practices ... and gone to hearings at the NLRB, Region 31. Nobody gets scared or intimidated by this stuff. The Board investigates, the Board has a hearing, the Board (Region 31) makes a ruling. Which takes a looong stretch of time.
And then, if that ruling is not to the AMPTP's liking, the AMPTP appeals it to the National Labor Relations Board in D.C. More months and years glide by. And then, if the AMPTP doesn't like the ruling that eventually comes out of there (which is doubtful, since we live in the time of George W. Bush and the National Board is heavily weighted in favor of Big Business), it can appeal it again in court.
And now it's 2012, a year past the next contract deadline. So nobody should get overly worked up about this maneuver, because a maneuver is all it is.