Right now, IATSE president Tom Short and WGA President Patric Verrone are swapping nasty letters and fighting in public. I would have posted the missives earlier today but I wanted to do some reporting first. (I’ve repeatedly pledged to stay in the middle on this strike, and I’m trying to keep my word.) So now I’ll step back from the bitchslapping and look at the origins of this bad blood — and, boy, is there ever bad blood — between IATSE and WGA.
Of course, IATSE and WGA have been feuding over reality show and animation writers and who does, and should, represent them and many other issues for years, But, according to my sources, the pre-strike bickering between them began more than a year ago when Short had lunch with Verrone and top WGA negotiator Dave Young in September 2006. I’m told Short came away from the meal convinced that the two writers guild leaders wanted a strike “come hell or high water” and “nothing or nobody” was going to talk them out of it.
The next shoe to drop was when, in November 2006, the WGA backed off its own proposed date to begin negotiations with AMPTP on January 16th. This, needless to say, infuriated IATSE’s Short, who phoned Verrone on November 28th, 2006, and tried to impress upon him that it was vital “this gets resolved” sooner rather than later and to set an early date for the bargaining to start. Verrone refused — even though I’m told by a reliable source that Short warned him behind the scenes that “If you guys don’t go into talks there will be a ‘ramp up’ – increase in production, stockpiling of scripts – it’s going to be like 2001 all over again. At which point, Verrone said, ‘Nonsense, that isn’t going to happen.’”
IATSE then issued a very angry 2-page news release on December 13th, 2006, giving the media hard evidence contradicting Verrone’s claim, which had then been made public, that there wouldn’t be any ramp up and calling the threat a “Boogeyman”. IATSE cited 2001 facts and figures when a ramp up occurred because of last-minute bargaining even though a strike was never called. “The numbers speak for themselves and show that the WGA leadership is totally out of touch with the impact of their foolhardy tactics,” Short said in the December release. “Figures don’t lie, liars figures.”
A Short insider tells me: “There was a concern on the part of IATSE leadership that the lack of talks would be disastrous.” I certainly don’t think, given what’s transpired since then, that Short was wrong. If anything, he was prophetic.
As Short says in his latest angry letter to Verrone sent Tuesday, “Ever since late last year when the WGAw announced withdrawal from its own proposed negotiating date in January 2007, I have warned you and predicted the devastation that would come from your actions. Those predictions have now come true,” Short fumed. “When I phoned you on Nov. 28, 2006, to ask you to reconsider the timing of negotiations, you refused. It now seems that you were intending that there be a strike no matter what you were offered, or what conditions the industry faced when your contract expired at the end of October.”
But I also must wonder why Short hasn’t been nearly as hard on the AMPTP as he has been on the WGA. And my answer is that it may be a matter of clashing personalities.
Sources tells me that Short’s furious letter sent on Tuesday was prompted by a Los Angeles Times profile on Dave Young that ran the day before and one quote in particular from the WGA chief negotiator – “Much to his delight, the 48-year-old labor leader says he himself was treated like ‘a rock star’ last week at a host of rallies and pickets that he orchestrated all over Los Angeles and New York.”
A source close to Short tells me he objected not just to Young’s choice of words, but more to Young’s seeming enjoyment of his new-found notoriety while IATSE members were thrown out of work. Young, for those not in the know, is not a Hollywood writer; he has been a union organizer of garment workers, carpenters and construction laborers.
Here is what Short says specifically about Young in his latest letter: “As the motion picture and television industry looks at the possible cost of over $1 billion and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, your executive director David Young is quoted in the Los Angeles Times as delighted he’s being treated ‘like a rock star’ at rallies and says, ‘I just lay back and look at the havoc I’ve wreaked… I’m not going to apologize for that.’ This is hardly the point of view of a responsible labor leader, someone dedicated to the preservation of an industry that has supported the economies of several major cities for decades.
“The Times story continues: ‘Young and his team spent months preparing for this moment.’ Why hasn’t this team instead spent months preparing to negotiate a contract that would ensure the health and future of the motion picture and television industry?
“The Times also points out that Mr. Young has never negotiated a contract in the motion picture industry. His incompetence and inexperience are causing irreeparable damage to the industry at a time when we can all ill afford to ignore the worsening national economy, the unstable international climate, and the crises in health care and the housing market that are affecting many of our working families.”
Short ended his letter on a somewhat concilatory note — “it’s time to put egos aside and recognize how crucial it is to get everyone back to work, before there is irreversible damage from which this industry can never recover.” But it still begs the question why Short isn’t also bitchslapping the AMPTP which, after all, is the side now refusing to enter back into settlement negotiations with the WGA. (For details, see my LA Weekly column, Deals, Lies & Backchannels.)
“That’s a good question, a really good question,” a source close to Short told me today.
Also today, Verrone wrote the following missive in response to Short’s letter: “As I’m sure you know, for every four cents writers receive in theatrical residuals, directors receive four cents, actors receive 12 cents,and the members of your union receive 20 cents in contributions to their health fund. To put it simply, our fight should be your fight. We’ve received support from the Teamsters, the actors, many IATSE members, and unions throughout the world.
“As we’ve stated clearly, we are willing to negotiate; we have wanted to negotiate; we are here to negotiate. Despite the fact that the AMPTP conceded progress was being made on November 4th, the last day of negotiations, they walked out and have not returned. So please help us by doing everything you can to get the AMPTP to come back to the table and settle this strike, which, as you say, is devastating to your members, to our members, and to the entire town.”