Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Scribe Talks

With all the other business that was floating around this week, I didn't get around to this:

Plans for a restart of contract negotiations between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers had not come together Wednesday -- two weeks after the first round of negotiations broke off following two acrimonious sessions. The WGA contract expires Oct. 31.

Since then, the AMPTP's been focused on making a deal with Teamster drivers and four craft unions. The two sides reached a three-year tentative agreement Wednesday, a few hours after the expiration of the Basic Crafts contract.

A couple of things to note here.

The Teamsters and Basic Crafts deal wrapped up early Wednesday, like after one in the morning. So unions and management negotiated past contract expiration.

Nothing at all unusual about that, it happens all the time. Unions use this approach to focus management minds.

This is the negotiation strategy the WGA appears to be using, and which the Alliance of of Motion Picture and Television producers have earlier lambasted them for. (But hey, nobody is rushing back to the table now, are they?).

So what was the AMPTP's reaction to the edge-of-the-cliff talks of the Teamsters and Basic Crafts?

In a statement, AMPTP president Nick Counter praised his opponents, saying, "The Teamsters and other Basic Crafts should be commended for their professional and responsible approach to negotiations, allowing us to reach a fair deal that assures production will continue under their agreements."

Not a word about their "recklessness" and general pig-headedness for driving the talks into the wee hours of the morning. Not a whisper of unprofessionalism and bad faith.

Now, I had occasion to talk to various studio labor reps during these negotiations about various uniony things, and I usually asked: "So how are the Teamster and Basic Crafts talks going?"

The answers were about how difficult they were, what pains-in-the-backsides the Teamsters were, etc. (The usual management observation about labor during stressful contract talks is: "They're totally out of control...")

Blah blah blah.

This stuff is part of the white noise that always surrounds negotiations. Stripped down to essentials, there are two strategies to contract talks:

1) Late negotiations, with looming contract expiration being the great motivator for reaching a deal.

2) Early negotiations, where the impetus is the threat (usually given by labor) that if the parties don't reach an agreement quickly, talks will break off and the union(s)won't return to the bargaining table until three days before the contract expires.

Effective contract talks, in the end, come about from having leverage and knowing how far you can successfully employ that leverage.

Now we get to see how effectively various levers are used by the WGA between now and October 31.


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