To Our Fellow Members,
“If the Writers Guild didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it.” — Legendary Hollywood executive Sid Sheinberg said that back in 1988 when he was president of Universal Studios. Mr. Sheinberg didn’t say it out of some great love of the Guild. The fact is we were on strike at the time and, if there had been some way to do without us, any self-respecting studio head would have jumped at the chance. But Mr. Sheinberg understood the role that our Guild, and all the other guilds and unions, play in this industry. A role that Universal’s latest owner, Comcast, seems not to understand.
Hollywood runs on a talented pool of what is essentially freelance labor. The guilds, every bit as much as the companies, make this talent pool possible by ensuring two things: First, that when you work, you’ll be fairly compensated. And second, that your pension and health benefits follow you from job to job. Projects and shows come and go, but fair compensation and portable benefits ensure that talented people remain. This guild-based ecosystem works to everyone’s advantage, including the companies. It makes our industry possible. Because talented people won’t follow their dreams here if, after 20 years of working, they’ve got nothing to show for it. And without the talent pool, everything dries up.
Universal’s new owners don’t get that. Despite what Comcast promised when it was under the microscope of federal merger hearings, it is now clear that they’re not interested in maintaining Hollywood’s union environment. What they’re interested in is the same kind of foot-dragging, strong-arm tactics and deceit they’ve deployed against every effort to unionize elsewhere. Comcast spokespeople dutifully recite that employees should have the freedom to choose whether to be in a union – that, after all, is the law – but official corporate policy is more frankly expressed in their anti-union training manual: “Comcast does not feel union representation is in the best interest of its employees, customers, or shareholders.” That may be what Comcast feels, but the writers of the Comcast Entertainment Group feel differently. They have signed cards, and voted, and petitioned Comcast to accept representation by the WGA. It’s time for Comcast to say yes.
Comcast is now in “the club” – that group of multinational conglomerates (CBS, Disney/ABC, Paramount, Fox, Sony, and MGM) who negotiate together. Comcast may not be there by name – it will almost certainly still speak through familiar NBC/Universal labor executives – but its mistaken approach will most certainly be felt. And its approach is to destroy the unions that, as much as the companies, make this industry work. What Comcast wants is to come in and freeload off what others have built. What it wants is to be able to take advantage of the talent pool without contributing. Comcast thinks it can pull a sleight of hand, labeling some of its writers “Comcast,” and so non-union, when across the hall there is NBC. That may be the way they built the cable company with the worst customer satisfaction ratings in America, but we can’t let it be the way they behave here. None of us can.
As WGAW members we are committed to supporting and welcoming the Comcast writers who are fighting for WGA representation. As WGAW board members, it is our obligation to rally our fellow writers to join in that support. With what’s at stake and considering the way Comcast is behaving, our task should be an easy one and we know we can count you in. Sid Sheinberg saw this industry’s need to invent our Guild; Comcast sees only a need to destroy it.
Patric M. Verrone
Members, Board of Directors
Writers Guild of America, West