For the past two years, I’ve served on the WGA board of directors and the negotiating committee for the agency campaign. I’ve spoken with hundreds of members in person, on the phone and via email.
Some are strongly in favor of the Guild’s action; some are vehemently opposed. That’s fine! A union doesn’t require uniformity of opinion. But it does need a common set of facts.
In that spirit, I want to address a pernicious myth that’s being amplified by some of the candidates running for office this cycle: that the WGA refuses to negotiate.
I hear this idea repeated so often that some very smart friends have stopped questioning the premise. It’s become a straw man, a false argument set up just to be knocked down.
Here’s Phyllis Nagy:
In refusing to negotiate with the ATA, current leadership has effectively refused to negotiate with the Big 4. Stalemate. That benefits no one.
Here’s Bill Schmidt:
But leadership is not negotiating. They refuse to negotiate until the Big Four end packaging and eliminate affiliated production companies. They cite as our biggest weapon the lawsuit filed on behalf of eight writers.
Here’s Jason Fuchs:
I want to win this fight, but we cannot win a game we refuse to play.
The solution these candidates offer is so reasonable as to seem obvious: just start negotiating!
The reality is that the WGA has never refused to negotiate. In fact, it never stopped negotiating.
But! But! What about back in June, when David Goodman put out a statement saying that we were going to stop negotiating?
Except he didn’t. Here’s what he actually said:
The truth is, the agencies in that ATA room are stuck. Agencies that have no financial interest in producing, and very little in packaging, are having their futures tied to entities like WME, which has gone into the IPO business and is currently committed to changing nothing. There is virtually no negotiation occurring, except for the concessions the Guild has made. Two months after our last meeting, they have now made us an offer that, as I indicated earlier, moved very little, and in some ways is worse.
So, we think it is time to start negotiating individually with the nine remaining agencies who represent a significant amount of writers, rather than with the ATA. The nine agencies are UTA, CAA, ICM, WME, Gersh, Paradigm, Rothman Brecher, Kaplan-Stahler, and APA. We are willing to meet with every agency that is willing to meet with us. We’ll reach out to each of them individually again in an attempt to hear their specific concerns with our proposals.
Spoiler: That’s what actually happened.
In the past month, the first of those nine agencies (Kaplan Stahler) broke from the ATA and signed a new negotiated agreement. I stress negotiated because members of the negotiating committee — including me — spent hours discussing and debating which compromises made sense, both for this deal and going forward.
Since then, the Buchwald Agency signed a deal, as did a new agency formed by leading agents who left Abrams.
In each case, the negotiations were quiet. The town didn’t know they were happening until the results were announced.
A July 20th LA Times article picked the wrong person to interview:
“There is no back-channeling going on,” said an agency leader who was not authorized to comment.
Not only was there back-channeling going on, there were active negotiations between agencies and the guild. The discussions were focused on specific issues. For example, in response to agency concerns, we clarified language on reporting requirements and increased the length of the deal to five years.
None of the announced agreements have been with big four agencies, nor do they offer concessions on producing or packaging fees, other than a one-year sunset clause.
In order to get the big four, Phyllis Nagy argues the WGA needs to return to the room with the ATA:
Yes, the conflicts and abuses of both [packaging fees and producing] have to be tackled head on and greatly curtailed or eliminated. That requires focused negotiation followed by presentation of terms to the entire membership for approval. It’s worth repeating — none of this will happen without rolling up sleeves and getting back to the negotiating table.
The Nagy plan will involve sitting at the negotiating table with forearms bared and then — what exactly? As far as I can tell, the checklist is:
- Sit down at the table with ATA
- Present deal for membership vote
In contrast, the current Guild leadership has explained exactly what they intend to do: negotiate individually with each agency, with special emphasis on agencies 5 through 9, to hammer out specific issues. The WGA explained why: the different agencies have different needs and agendas.
Having been in the sausage-making room, I believe the process of reaching a resolution with the big four agencies is likely to be frustrating and exhausting, with multiple false starts, dashed hopes and occasional breakthroughs. It’ll take more than one shot. I think we can get there, but my hunch is it’s going to be a slog, because it’s been a slog. This is sloggy business.
That’s not the kind of statement a candidate can run on (“Vote for the Slog!”), but fortunately I’m not running for reelection. I’m only speaking as someone who’s spent hundreds of hours on this and wants my guild to come out of both this agency campaign and election season with clear eyes, compassionate differences of opinion, and a common set of facts.