Things are going downhill already just days before the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers are set to start negotiating a new 3-year contract. In an almost bizarre move, the producers allegedly told the WGA last week that they want “60 million dollars in rollbacks for writers, 32 million of that coming from our health plan,” according to an email sent out to WGA members today. “But it doesn’t stop there. Other proposals targeted screenplay minimums (11 million dollar rollback), TV residuals, and our Pension Plan,” adds the correspondence from WGA negotiating committee co-chairs Chip Johannessen and Billy Ray. “These proposed rollbacks for writers come at a time of unprecedented prosperity for the studios,” say Johannessen and Ray. “The collective profits of our 6 major bargaining partners (Disney, CBS, Comcast, Fox, Time Warner and Viacom) just hit a record $40 billion. This prosperity is based on our work, we are the creative force driving it. Are $60 million in rollbacks a just reward?” The letter to members adds that they were “surprised” by the opening proposals. That would be putting it mildly.
The WGA and AMPTP are scheduled to sit down on February 3 at the producers group HQ in Sherman Oaks. With today’s letter, what many expected to be relatively smooth discussions akin to the DGA’s successful and recently ratified talks with the producers now has gotten very sharp. “No one wants this be contentious,” one source close to the negotiating committee told me, “but it has to be fair — and this isn’t fair.” The WGA’s current contract expires on May 1. The Writers Guild announced its negotiating committee back in mid-November. Today’s email to members concludes with, “Talks begin Monday. You won’t be hearing from us on a daily basis, but we’ll certainly let you know when we reach a deal or hit an impasse.”