SUNDAY 12:30 PM: At the WGA’s news conference today, union leaders declared the new contract is “a huge victory for us”. Trumpeted WGAW President Patric Verrone, “This is the first time we actually got a better deal in a new media than previously.” Verrone credited News Corp. No. 2 Peter Chernin and Disney chief Bob Iger, and also CBS boss Les Moonves, with “being instrumental in making this deal happen” after the WGA spent 3 months “getting nowhere” with the AMPTP negotiators and lawyers. WGA negotiating committee chief John Bowman added that, “What happened to the Golden Globes was instrumental in getting the CEOs to this table. It was a huge symbol.” Bowman said it was “imperative” that the WGA “get in on the ground floor of New Media. Henceforth, we’re in from the start. It’s 2% of distributor’s gross. They can’t have a business model without taking that into account.” (Photo below by Jim Stevenson of WGA news conference with John Bowman, Patric Verrone and Dave Young. Text continues after pic…)
Verrone said, “Since we began negotiations in July, we’ve been saying, ‘If they get paid, we get paid.’ This contract makes that a reality. It’s the best deal this Guild has bargained for in 30 years after the most successful strike this Guild has waged in 35 years. It was arguably the most successful strike in the American labor movement in a decade, clearly the most important of this young century. It is not all that we hoped for, and not all that we deserved. But as I told our members, this strike was about the future, and this deal assures for us and for future generations of writers a share in the future…”
Verrone said it was “heartbreaking for me personally” to drop the WGA’s demands relating to reality and animation (Verrone is an animation writer) “But it was more important that we make a deal that benefitted the membership and the town as a whole and got people back to work.” Verrone stated that “The legacy of the ’88 strike was the ability of the companies to develop content without writers and creators. The legacy of this strike will be the ability of writers and creators to develop content without the companies. We are making deals, and we will continue to make deals, with Google, Yahoo, and others beyond just the 7 conglomerates.”
The leaders confirmed that WGA members would have 48 hours to call off the strike and 10 days to accept the newly negotiated contract.
But Verrone said TV showrunners (who have producing duties in addition to writing duties on TV series) would be allowed to go back to work Monday before the 48-hour notice vote by members is conducted. This no doubt solves the dilemma that the moguls made the deal negotiated with the WGA contingent on having the writers go back to work immediately.
The Writers Guild East Council and Writers Guild West Board voted to approve the contract and sent it to membership for a ratification vote, which will be conducted via mail ballot and at special meetings conducted on a date to be determined. In addition, the Council and Board also voted to lift the restraining order (strike) upon the majority vote of the membership, casting ballots in a vote to be conducted Tuesday, February 12th.
Variety reports that industry sources say the WGA contract reached with the majors “includes a provision that will allow scribes who were force majeuered from ongoing series to return to their old jobs. The contract does not address those who were force majeured from overall deals and other contracts if they were not working on a series that will resume production.”
I can also report that the Screen Actors Guild, whose contract expires in June, has not set a date yet when it will start negotiating with the moguls. Asked about the possibility of an actors strike, the WGA leaders concurred that “no part of the Industry wants a second strike”.
SUNDAY AM: I’m told the WGA’s Negotiating Committee met today from 9 AM-10 AM and agreed to recommend the writers-moguls deal and to call off the strike. The WGAW’s governing Board and the WGAE’s governing Council began meeting at 10 AM Pacific time to do the same thing. That confab should have the same outcome in time for a WGA news conference at noon with WGAW President Patric Verrone, WGAE President Michael Winship (on the phone), WGAW Executive Director and Chief Negotiator David Young, and WGA Negotiating Committee Chair John Bowman. No matter how the governing boards voted, the WGA membership will still have the last word on calling off the strike within 48 hours, and accepting the newly negotiated contract within 10 days. (FYI: I can’t attend because I’m still fluish and coughing my head off.)
Here’s more detail, courtesy of United Hollywood, on the membership’s 48 hour vote on whether or not to immediately lift the strike. The 48 hours starts today, probably by early this afternoon, with a view to a polling place-like vote probably in the WGA Theater on Tuesday. Voting will either be in person or by fax (proxy). If the vote passes, writers can go back to work. Then the writers will be given 10 days notice to vote by mail, in person or by fax (proxy) on accepting the new contract.
SATURDAY 9:00 PM: I’ve received word from inside the Shrine Auditorium meeting that the WGA West membership was obviously “very positive” about resolving the writers strike as soon as possible and accepting the deal negotiated by the guild leadership with the Hollywood moguls. Also, the WGA governing bodies wisely decided to ensure that guild members be able to vote within the next 48 hours before the strike can be called off by leaders — even though the AMPTP made the deal contingent on the writers going back to work immediately. Under this new end game, Hollywood could now get back to work by Wednesday at the earliest (not Monday as previously arranged). This also means the Academy Awards, just 14 days away, won’t be picketed. A writer who just left the confab told me: “There was cheering for everything and standing ovation after standing ovation for all the leadership. There is no question in my mind that because of the atmosphere in that room this strike will be called off. There is no gearing for a fight. It’s over.”
WGAW President Patric Verrone announced that there would be a vote by the membership over the next 48 hours on whether or not to lift the strike. I’m told Verrone said specifically that the decision to call off the strike, regardless of the WGA Negotiating Committee’s or the WGAW Board’s or WGAE Council’s recommendation, was to be in the hands of the membership (which wasn’t originally planned). Pending that outcome, the 10-day ballotting process for members to accept the tentative deal would begin. Since the moguls insisted that vote not delay the lifting of the strike, WGA leader Dave Young Young told the auditorium that the writers, and therefore all of Hollywood, could get back to work by Wednesday. That means Back 9 orders of some scripted TV series could be saved along with a no-frills pilot season with less scripted series ordered than ever before. (And expect the upfront presentations to advertisers to consist of a lot more pleading than preening.) Some of the force-majeured deals could be reinstated. (But it’s important to remember that three times as many pacts would have been cancelled if the agents and lawyers hadn’t lobbied the networks and studios.) Feature films that were halted could get going immediately.
About 25% of the attendees left the auditorium after Dave Young explained the deal points. But the meeting is still going on as members now ask questions about specific terms. Nevertheless, it’s g’night from DHD. More coverage tomorrow. (Photos by Jim Stevenson: above, outside Shrine Auditorium as WGA membership arrive for meeting tonight; below, reporters throng screenwriter Gregory Poirier outside the Shrine.)
SATURDAY 8:00 PM: The Los Angeles Times‘ Envelope blog just sent out an email alert that the WGA strike will not be over on Monday. This is based on the blogging of LAT columnist Joel Stein, who is the newspaper’s unreadable humor columnist and is inside the WGA West membership meeting at the Shrine because he is a guild member. Stein wrote that WGAW President Patric Verrone told the room that “the strike isn’t over Monday” and “the decision to lift the strike will be up to the membership after the vote on the contract”. I do not have confirmation of this yet, although I have been reporting since yesterday that WGA members were pressing the guild’s leadership and governing bodies for more time to study the language and terms of the proposed WGA-mogul deal. However, earlier today the WGA East membership meeting in NYC was told that the AMPTP made the deal contingent on writers going back to work immediately. ADDENDUM: Los Angeles Times TV writer Maria Elena Fernandez clarifies in this email to me: “Just wanted to correct you on something you posted regarding Joel Stein’s blogging. Yes, Joel was in there and was sending his first-person dispatches, but the information you quoted–Verrone’s statement, etc–actually came from me. I was the one in the Shrine doing the news blogging. Joel didn’t quote anyone and didn’t really provide news. He just did impressions.”
SATURDAY 7:00 PM: Tonight’s WGA West membership “informational” meeting is scheduled to start.
SATURDAY 4:00 PM: The WGA East’s “informational” meeting for membership lasted about 3 hours. Here’s more about the NYC confab from a WGA attendee: “The East meeting was insanely civil. Not one chair thrown. I was at the meeting in the same ballroom the second week of the strike, when the same people were sitting up there and were characteristically defensive about why we had gone out and if they knew what they were doing. Today, those same people were not only confident, they were not in the least defensive about the deal — they were realistic, 180 degrees from the chaos and disarray I smelled three months ago. And they ain’t actors. I think if they felt they needed to ram something down our throats, you would have picked up on that immediately. The two big moments for me came very early, when each member of the negotiating committee spoke briefly. Terry George said, ‘We have defeated a tradition of rollbacks that began with the air traffic controllers.’ That crystallized what we were up against and how far we had come and changing the dialogue. A couple minutes later, Melissa Salmons said, ‘For years, I have lived in fear of that DVD formula, that it would be with me for my life. Now we have a deal that have movement in it.’ (Later on, she told a daytime writer that the staff of Days of Our Lives, who had all been fired last week, were getting their jobs back. And that a striking writer, if fired, had to be replaced by a striking writer. Not a scab, and not a fi-core member. Big ovation.) I’ll stop short of calling it a love fest, but not all that short. Legit questions were raised and respectfully answered. Again, no defensiveness. There was an informal applause poll, and the room was overwhelmingly in favor of ending the strike before a membership ratification vote.”
SATURDAY 2:40 PM: A WGA bigwig just phoned me with this important message for WGA members: “I need to bring up an important issue. The members have not seen all the deal points. The only deal points we have are the New Media deal points. But there is a key issue we aren’t seeing right now. Right now, the only favored nations clause we have with SAG is in New Media. Members may think we’re in a good position to benefit from a better SAG deal, to let SAG take the ball from our deal and run with it. But members need to know that if SAG turns around and negotiates a better DVD deal, or a better pension deal, or better rates anyplace else other than New Media, we will not benefit. We only have favored nations with SAG where it concerns New Media and even that isn’t even written down. It’s just a verbal agreement. They [the AMPTP] tried to screw us on this at the last minute.”
Here’s more on this issue from a strike captain’s email to his WGA picket team (excerpted): “No doubt you are reviewing the Tentative Agreement in detail. It’s challenging, and to be honest, I feel it’s probably the best we’re going to get without staying out on strike another 3-4 months… BUT… I need to bring one more important thing to your attention: FAVORED NATIONS CLAUSE. At the Captain’s Mtg yesterday, we were told that clause is SUPPOSED TO BE IN HERE. It is not. That clause means if SAG gets a better deal, and they most likely will in a few key areas (like perhaps streaming and adjusting that long window that concerns many of us), we would get the SAME DEAL. We were told Peter Chernin looked our team in the eye across the table while negotiating and said we would have it, then he denied it to his lawyers. Again, this deal is most likely as good as we’ll get, but without that clause, especially if he lied to us, IT IS NOT COMPLETE.”
SATURDAY 2:00 PM: Here’s first word to me from inside the WGA East “informational” meeting in NYC’s Crowne Plaza Hotel in Times Square. (The meeting is still going on…): “The room at first was not overly contentious as everyone listened to [WGA East Michael] Winship and others. Basically, the leadership was selling the deal. The leadership made it clear that the deal is a limited time offer. That if we don’t go back to work on this immediately we lose the deal and we’re back to the beginning again. There was some pushback. There was a lot of conversation how we shouldn’t go back immediately and we should at least have 48 hours to think about this. And the argument was that the AMPTP has said that this deal is contingent on going back to work immediately. That it’s kind of a ‘take or leave it offer’ and if we don’t take this then we could be out forever. But the leadership may consider a delay for 48 hours, that it’s a possibility this is what they’ll do. The mood in the room was that, ‘It’s not a perfect deal, but it’s good enough’. There was a sense of resignation.”
SATURDAY 11:00 AM: WGA EAST membership “informational” meeting supposed to start in NYC.
SATURDAY 9:45 AM: A WGA leadership insider just told me: “No decision has yet been made about lifting the strike. It is very possible member vote will be taken this week before strike is lifted. That will be decided by [WGA East] council and [WGA West] board tomorrow based on member feedback today.”
SATURDAY 9:00 AM: Emails are pouring into me from WGA West and East writers complaining that their leadership is, to quote one message, “ramming this deal down our throats”. Everything is pointing to very contentious membership meetings on both coasts today. Will the membership be able to overlook the procedural problems relating to this draft deal and instead focus on the contractual terms? Again, the links to the draft deal are here and here.
Here’s more about Friday’s briefing of all strike captains by the WGA leadership: “Just wanted you to know that no matter what you heard, when the deal was laid out for the strike captains Friday morning, support was WAAAY less than unanimous. Indeed, it was quite a vocal meeting, as a large number of captains expressed serious reservations that this deal is being forced on WGA members — that it’s not right for the WGA to call off the strike before members can vote on it, especially without seeing the contract. But dissenters were lobbied to go out and sell our teams the idea that continuing to strike will not yield a better deal.”
But a TV writer I know counters: “Gosh Nikki, I guess the squeaky wheels really do get the oil. What is with all this moaning and groaning you are hearing over email? My strike captain, definitely one of the more ‘militant’, was at the meeting, and says there was not all this dissention, thinks it’s a good deal, and does not think this it is being rammed down our throats. And neither do I. As someone who missed only three days of picketing since the strike started, I ask this: can people maybe just take a deep breath and look at this objectively? There’s no honorary Oscar awarded for Most Irrationally Outraged. however there will be an award for World’s Biggest Asshole, and it’ll be split 12,000 ways if we stay out of work two extra weeks all to approve the deal anyway, or worse yet, reject it and send even loyal picketers like me off the deep end.”
Still another strike captain I know emails: “I don’t know who is claiming that there was a lot of anger over the deal a the Strike Captains’ meeting yesterday. I was there. I’ve been to every SC meeting, and it was one of the least contentious meetings we’ve had. First of all, our leadership got thunderous applause when they were introduced. Secondly, I can barely remember a negative comment about the actual deal. I’d say the person who was the most brutally honest about the deal’s compromises was David Young himself. There was no sugar coating with him. Something I’ve come to like about him.
“Mostly, people asked questions because they wanted clarification. Joe Medeiros [Tonight Show head writer] asked a good question about the use of clips. Someone else asked about how the $40,000 and $20,000 figures were arrived at on Prime Time Streaming. Laeta Kalogridis [United Hollywood co-founder] got up and debunked the numerous inaccuracies in Friday’s NYT piece, and defended Bowman, Verrone, and Young against Michael Cieply’s fantastical reporting. Jay Kogen and Ken Lazebnik each voiced a need for the leadership to tell the story of the negotiations and how things were arrived at, so the membership understood how it all came about.
“The only real, consistent bone of contention was over who should end the strike… the leadership, or the membership. Patric was very clear that he wanted to wait and take the temperature of the membership at the meeting tonight, before a decision was made on how to go about ratifying and ending the strike. He was very open about it, and was clearly concerned that people might feel railroaded by a grand fiat ending the strike that was then followed by a ratification vote. He also made us keenly aware of the need to get people back to work in this town, and our responsibility to the people who are hurting.
“I even spoke briefly with Patric after the meeting and explained my belief that the 10-day wait was a relic of a pre-internet era, and that the 48-hour option, while being a logistical nightmare for the Guild and its staffers, was the best option in my eyes. He asked me a few questions about my opinion and I have no doubt he’s clearly concerned with making the best choice for everyone. The split over this issue by the Guild’s own members is a clear indication of just how difficult this choice is.
“Like everyone else, I have concerns about the deal, but overall I think it’s a win for us, and I have no doubt that it’s a deal we never would have come close to receiving without the strike. Like every negotiation, we’re not going to get everything we want. Every writer knows what it’s like when their agent/manager/lawyer, or in my case all three, try to get you a killer deal from the studios… you end up with something pretty good that you can live with, and gratefully can live on. That’s what we got here, and I see very little upside to rejecting the deal. Perhaps SAG, with our support, can better it a bit in June, and we’ll ride that “most favored nation” train along with them.
“To quote [WGA East head] Michael Winship [who was at the strike captains meeting in LA yesterday], who was quoting Bill Clinton, we shouldn’t let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘good.’ ” [Actually Voltaire said it…]
SATURDAY AM: At 2:30 AM, the WGAW and WGAE emailed this letter to membership with the drafted deal summary. Now the NYC WGA membership and the LA WGA membership have less than 12 hours to review it before Saturday’s meetings and their leadership “takes the temperatures” of both confabs. The huge question today is whether the writers gathering for these meetings will give the WGA West and East governing bodies an unofficial OK to approve the deal. In a lightning speed schedule dictated by the Hollywood CEOs, the WGAW and WGAE governing bodies meet on Sunday to decide whether to approve the deal and call off the strike. If the labor action is stopped, writers go back at work as soon as Monday. The moguls insisted the WGA leadership call off the strike before the guild members vote on the contract. But the tentative deal cannot be formally accepted until the WGAE and WGAW memberships ballotting expected within the next two weeks.
To Our Fellow Members,
We have a tentative deal.
It is an agreement that protects a future in which the Internet becomes the primary means of both content creation and delivery. It creates formulas for revenue-based residuals in new media, provides access to deals and financial data to help us evaluate and enforce those formulas, and establishes the principle that, “When they get paid, we get paid.”
Specific terms of the agreement are described in the summary at the following link and will be further discussed at our Saturday membership meetings on both coasts. At those meetings we will also discuss how we will proceed regarding ratification of this agreement and lifting the restraining order that ends the strike. Details of the Los Angeles meeting can be found at [link].
Less than six months ago, the AMPTP wanted to enact profit-based residuals, defer all Internet compensation in favor of a study, forever eliminate “distributor’s gross” valuations, and enforce 39 pages of rollbacks to compensation, pension and health benefits, reacquisition, and separated rights. Today, thanks to three months of physical resolve, determination, and perseverance, we have a contract that includes WGA jurisdiction and separated rights in new media, residuals for Internet reuse, enforcement and auditing tools, expansion of fair market value and distributor’s gross language, improvements to other traditional elements of the MBA, and no rollbacks.
Over these three difficult months, we shut down production of nearly all scripted content in TV and film and had a serious impact on the business of our employers in ways they did not expect and were hard pressed to deflect. Nevertheless, an ongoing struggle against seven, multinational media conglomerates, no matter how successful, is exhausting, taking an enormous personal toll on our members and countless others. As such, we believe that continuing to strike now will not bring sufficient gains to outweigh the potential risks and that the time has come to accept this contract and settle the strike.
Much has been achieved, and while this agreement is neither perfect nor perhaps all that we deserve for the countless hours of hard work and sacrifice, our strike has been a success. We activated, engaged, and involved the membership of our Guilds with a solidarity that has never before occurred. We developed a captains system and a communications structure that used the Internet to build bonds within our membership and beyond. We earned the backing of other unions and their members worldwide, the respect of elected leaders and politicians throughout the nation, and the overwhelming support of fans and the general public. Our thanks to all of them, and to the staffs at both Guilds who have worked so long and patiently to help us all.
There is much yet to be done and we intend to use all the techniques and relationships we’ve developed in this strike to make it happen. We must support our brothers and sisters in SAG who, as their contract expires in less than five months, will be facing many of the same challenges we have just endured. We must further pursue new relationships we have established in Washington and in state and local governments so that we can maintain leverage against the consolidated multinational conglomerates with whom we bargain. We must be vigilant in monitoring the deals that are made in new media so that in the years ahead we can enforce and expand our contract. We must fight to get decent working conditions and benefits for writers of reality TV, animation, and any other genre in which writers do not have a WGA contra