UPDATE: 5:57 PM: Neither embracing nor directly rebuffing the WGA West’s new Late Pay Initiative, the AMPTP today said it will “pledge our cooperation” to the move. The parsed statement comes just weeks before the WGA and AMPTP are expected to sit down to start talks on a new contract — where money will be doing most of the talking. Here’s the statement: “We agree with the Writers Guild of America that writers should be paid on time. We pledge our cooperation to address compliance in this important area. We encourage the Guild to advise us of instances when writers have not received timely payments in accordance with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.”
PREVIOUS 4:13 PM Tuesday: Representatives of the Writers Guild of America West haven’t sat down with the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers yet to negotiate a new master contract, but it’s starting to look for more money for its members – money they’re owed. Today the guild started a new initiative “to address the chronic problem of late payment to screenwriters.” In an email from WGAW President Chris Keyser and Executive Director David Young sent out to members today and posted online, the guild says its “goal is to change the culture of late pay that persists in Hollywood.” The guild adds that “our intent with this initiative is to systematically track all theatrical script deliveries and payments, thereby eliminating the possibility that an individual member or agency can be singled out by employers.”
Under the current Minimum Basic Agreement, writers are supposed to be paid within a week of submitting their material to the individual named in their respective contract with a signatory company. As almost any screenwriter in town will tell you, that rarely happens. Just weeks before talks are likely to start for a new 3-year contract between the WGA and the AMPTP, this new action by the guild is in response to complaints members expressed in its 2012 Screen Survey about getting their cash. Conducted in cooperation with the Association of Talent Agents, the late-pay initiative will deal with just features to begin with and is purely voluntary for members to participate in. The plan is the WGAW will be given the heads-up when a writer hands over his or her work. To ensure everyone is on the same timeline, agents can notify the WGAW by copying them on invoices, fill out a Script Delivery Notice form from the WGAW site or contact the guild via special email address. “Once the guild has received delivery information from an agent, the guild will track whether the writer has been paid on time,” Keyser and Young’s letter says. “If the agency confirms that payment was made, no further action will be taken. If payment is late, a guild representative will contact the company to demand the payment, including accrued interest.
If the move gets traction, the WGAW says there’s a possibility of broadening its reach to other categories. “We strongly urge all members to participate,” the guild adds waving its union banner. “When we stick together we have the greatest power to promote change and enforce timely payment.” While not a part of the pattern of demands that the WGA put out last month to members for its talks with AMPTP, the issue will undoubtedly come up. The question, beyond this initiative, is when. The WGA took the step to announce its negotiating committee on November 13 but neither they nor SAG-AFTRA have set a start date for their respective talks with AMPTP yet.