The Writers Guild wants a bigger share of the $49 billion in operating profits that it says Hollywood’s six major media conglomerates made last year. Those profits, which guild leaders say are double what they were only 10 years ago, are “largely attributable to the content” created by guild members.

The WGA’s current film and TV contract doesn’t expire for another year, but guild leaders already are gearing up for negotiations. In a letter sent to members today, they said that the guild’s health plan now is running in the red and that the average incomes of film and series TV writers “have actually decreased” during the past 10 years.

Howard RodmanThe letter was signed WGA West president Howard Rodman, VP David Goodman, Secretary-Treasurer Aaron Mendelsohn and all 16 members of the board of directors.

“Soon we’ll be conducting a series of member-outreach meetings to discuss our goals in the next negotiation,” they wrote. “But please know this: Those goals are both reasonable and attainable. A mere fraction of one percent of the companies’ profits – profits largely attributable to the content created by you and your fellow WGA members – would easily restore writer income to an appropriate level and move our (health and pension) benefit plans to a more secure position.”

The guilds’ current contract expires on May 1, 2017, and negotiations are expected to begin next spring.

Last year, when the current leaders were running for election, they said that some of the hot-button issues that need to be addressed at the next round of contract talks include cable parity, diversity, free rewrites, free pre-writes, sweepstakes pitching and “bake-offs,” late payments, packaging, creative rights, one-step deals, so-called “paper teams,” the erosion of the “quote” system, the guild’s ailing health plan and the steady decline in pay and jobs for feature film writers.

Achieving cable parity was cited as a top priority by many of the candidates. In its infancy, the cable industry got a big break from the WGA – and from SAG and the DGA as well – to help get it started. Minimum pay for writers was deeply discounted and remains so to this day compared to the minimum pay writers get on network shows: anywhere from 30%-40% less. Scale for writing the story and teleplay for a one-hour primetime network show, for example, is currently $37,368, while the minimum pay for writing the story and teleplay for a high-budget, one-hour basic cable show is more than $10,000 less — $27,078.

“Many of our advances have been more than offset by a quiet assault on wages and working conditions,” Rodman said in his candidate’s statement last year. “The six companies with whom we negotiate are in a period of unprecedented prosperity, fueled by a television and new-media business that is increasingly risk-free. Yet there are downward pressures on our salaries.”

The guild’s contract, he wrote, “is advancing yet our individual salaries – except for a hardworking and justly well-compensated few – are in retreat. Screenwriters, whose opportunities for employment have been in rapid decline, are the canaries in this coal mine, seeing the hollowing-out of our middle class with clarity, feeling it with painful force. But make no mistake: this affects all of us.”