Robert King is on the WGAW’s Board of Directors and co-founded Writers United.
Dear Fellow WGA Member,
I’m one of the proud founding members of Writers United; I am a strong supporter of our Executive Director, David Young; I was a fervent proponent of the 2007-8 strike; and I’m urging you to vote for John Wells for President, Howard Gould for Vice-President, and Christopher Keyser for Secretary-Treasurer. To my mind, this is the only way—and I do mean the only way—we can build on the gains of the 2007-8 strike. I have three arguments that can be summed up as follows…
1. Let’s start with EST. My take on the 2007-8 negotiations is this: we won the strike and lost the contract.
We all made amazing sacrifices; we walked more miles than Lewis and Clark; we pulled together in a way the Guild never has before; and we did this for one shared and very important reason…
To make improvements in our contract.
And one of the key ways we did this was in EST—Electronic Sell-Through—or in laymen’s terms: itunes. When a show of ours is sold on itunes (or other services), the companies wanted us to accept the old hated DVD rate—a horribly low percentage—and we fought for something superior. And…
We doubled the DVD rate on itunes sales for all features going back to 1971 and all TV episodes going back to 1977. That’s pretty darn good. It made all those days turning circles in front of Fox worth it. The only problem is that that win never made it into our contract—at least not in the way that we on the Board and Negotiating Committee were told it would.
It appears we only got double the rate on shows produced after February 13, 2008. Every show before that—every feature you and I wrote, every episode of TV—would be paid at the old DVD rate.
This is an amazing loss. A stunning loss. A loss probably in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s a gift to management: almost 40 years of our shows at half-price.
Now, I’m usually sympathetic to arguments that the companies cheated us. Hey, we’ve all been cheated. But if there were any moment in the history of the Guild the officers and staff should have been attuned to being cheated, it was on the heels of the most devastating strike in our history.
If you’re sensing my anger here, you would be right. Our leaders asked us to strike, to take amazing financial hits, and then, at the last minute, in the contractual sweep-up, when members have no voice, our leaders got played.
So why does that mean we should vote out Elias Davis and vote in John Wells?
Because David Young is fantastic, but his strengths are also his weaknesses. He is not someone we hired from within the industry (as we did with our last two Executive Directors). This makes him truly independent — a good thing. But it also puts him in a position of playing catch-up on our business. That’s why we need John Wells as President: to offer business savvy and personal knowledge where David Young and Jeff Hermanson lack it. We need a member to balance our staff.
Elias Davis is a good person. I’ve served with him on the Board of Directors for almost eight years. But his breadth of recent industry experience and his contact with the business is minimal. It is no match for John’s. This is an important point. It’s not about writing. It’s not about career. It’s about what a Presidential candidate has to offer the Guild. It’s about someone having first-hand knowledge about constant changes in the business. John Wells offers this; Elias Davis does not.
And with this Executive Director, we need that experience more than ever.
2. Having served on the 2004 and 2008 negotiating committee, there was one number in our contract held up as the gold standard in New Media: 1.2 percent in Internet rentals. When your show is rented on the internet, the company must pay you DOUBLE our greatest win in the 2008 negotiations. This is, I’m sure you’ll agree, great, and hopefully will result in hundreds of millions of dollars in additional residual money for our members.
This percentage was won by the 2001 negotiating committee—with some tough brinksmanship and without a strike. I think both John Wells’ supporters and detractors would agree, this gold standard was achieved through the efforts of one man: John Wells.
How do we improve on the hard-won gains of 2008? Go with the person who got the best deal on New Media we’ve ever achieved. Vote for John Wells.
3. Unlike 2007, our next contract is up for renegotiation at the same time as two other creative guilds: the Directors Guild and the Screen Actors Guild. Due to pattern bargaining, once management makes a deal with one guild, that routinely becomes the pattern for the other two.
So unlike 2007, the companies will immediately turn to the Directors Guild — mostly because it is seen as the most compliant creative guild. It is essential — and it’s hard to emphasize this enough — that we create greater dialogue with the DGA on our shared interests; and New Media offers a chance to do this.
Unfortunately, from my experience, the last four years have been some of the worst for DGA and WGA relations. The easiest thing to do would be to blame the DGA for this, and there is certainly truth in that. But Writers United, and I’m damning myself with these words too, has ignored the difficult task of bonding with DGA in order to create a greater and easier bond with SAG.
We need a President and officers who can put aside old tensions. Very simply, John Wells, Howard Gould, and Chris Keyser can do this. Elias Davis, Tom Schulman, and David Weiss can not.
Here’s the bottom line: the losses in 2008 were a failure of leadership, not membership. That leadership is now asking for your vote again.
At the same time, we have one of our savviest members—a member who has negotiated our best deal in New Media—running for President; and this is happening at a moment when we need to find common ground with a sister guild for the most pragmatic of reasons.
That is why I, a founding member of Writers United, can’t support the Writers United candidates for officer positions this year. And that is why I urge you to vote for John Wells, Howard Gould, and Christopher Keyser.