Thursday, December 23, 2010

Setting the Table

The Reporter -- as do other media outlets -- reports:

The WGA signaled Wednesday that its 2011 studio contract negotiations, still unscheduled, might not be easy, releasing a proposed "Pattern of Demands" of ambitious scope. The document was sent to members today, with a return date of Jan. 24.

If approved as expected, the document becomes the guild's outline of negotiating priorities. It does not contain specific proposals, dollars or percentages -- nor angry rhetoric -- but the list alone is likely to elicit concern among studio executives because it seeks many different monetary increases plus significant changes in the script development process.

Of course, creating that anxiety is a first step in the posturing and positioning that marks most labor negotiations. ...

It's important to know that the WGA, along with SAG, is on the militant side of the canyon dividing the four large entertainment unions. The performers' and writers' guilds usually take negotiations up to the deadline, pushing the negotiation envelope. They're not shy about using the strike option

The Directors Guild of America and International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employes (of which TAG is a part) generally negotiate early and seldom strike. (The DGA has hit the bricks once over contract issues; the job action last five to fifteen minutes, depending on who you talk to.)

Having watched this process up close for some little while, I've come to my own conclusions about why the DGA and IA are less militant than their sister guilds. It comes down to the Directors and the International Alliance being populated with members who are far more dependent on the industry chugging along without work stoppages. If the labor organization to which they belong goes on a long strike, they are without rent and food money.

Conversely, the Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild have higher percentages of people who freelance, have long stretches of unemployment, and live on residual money. Many also earn income from non-entertainment jobs. For them, a long strike isn't the same gut-clenching issue that it is for a grip, sound editor, or production manager who's principle means of employment is ongoing feature, television and commercial work.

So will the Writers Guild of America strike again this year? If John Wells hadn't been elected President of the WGA, I would have said "Probably." But since a Guild moderate is up in the wheel house, I think the odds of a strike are lower. But as an industry lawyer related:

"The WGA obviously believes that they have the most leverage at the wire," said Alan Brunswick, a labor attorney with Los Angeles-based Manatt Phelps Phillips. "Obviously, the WGA has some issues that are unique, but they also have to do deal with the companies having already negotiated deals with SAG, AFTRA and the DGA. So the concrete is hardening fast." ...

Hard concrete vs. steely resolve. Rather soon we'll see which of those two prevail.


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