After a week of hard bargaining, a source close to the ongoing WGA contract talks told Deadline that “there is progress being made and it’s very cordial.” The negotiations, which began Monday, are being held under a strict media blackout at the Sherman Oaks offices of management’s Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.
Rescuing the guild’s ailing health plan, which has run at a deficit in all but one of the past four years, is one of the hottest hot-button issues in the negotiations. Several sources have told Deadline that writers are “willing to strike” to maintain current levels of health coverage.
Another flashpoint for a potential strike is the downturn in weekly compensation for series TV writer-producers. The WGA West’s annual reports show that in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, TV writers earned $803 million in wages under the guild’s basic contract, which is over 75% more than the $454 million they earned in 2006.
But those numbers are only based on guild minimums and don’t include the money they make as writers employed in additional capacities, such as producers and executive producers. And that’s where TV writer-producers are taking it on the chin, according to a recent two-season survey conducted by the guild of some 2,000 working TV writer-producers, which found a 23% overall decline in their median incomes from the 2013-14 season to the 2015-16 season.
The leading cause for the downturn is the shortening of many shows’ seasons, with fewer episodes meaning fewer dollars for writer-producers. And that has hit writing teams especially hard because they afford producers two writers for the price of one. Prior to the talks, the guild said that it intended to “address inequities in compensation of writing teams employed under term deals for television and new media series.”
Revenue from new media is another key issue in the talks. Before going into the negotiations, the guild told its members that “new models of development, production and distribution, while making the companies richer, have not worked to your individual or collective advantage.”
With this regard, as is customary in so-called “pattern bargaining, ” the WGA is expected to be offered a deal similar to one the DGA worked out during its contract negotiations in December, which established a new residuals formula that takes into account substantial subscriber growth in order to compensate members working on original content for established streaming services. According to the DGA, it “more than triples residuals for members working on original content in the highest subscriber tier, while also allowing new and emerging entrants to the market the opportunity to grow as they develop their services.”
The WGA is also bargaining to improve the lot of Hollywood’s screenwriters, who have been hit especially hard by the decline in the number of films released in recent years, and have seen a steady decline in their earnings. In fact, they earned more in wages 1996 ($364.4 million) than they did in 2015 ($362.1 million), according to the guild’s annual reports.
Other issues included in the WGA’s “pattern of demands” include:
- Increased minimum compensation in all areas.
- Increaser residuals for undercompensated reuse markets.
- An expansion of the types of made-for new media programs subject to the contract’s minimums.
- Increased contributions to the guild’s Pension Plan.
- Stronger regulations of options and exclusivity provisions in television and new media employment contracts.
- Paid family leave for writers employed under term deals for television and new media series.
- An amended definition of a professional writer to include writing for new media.
- Increased funding for the Showrunner Training Program and the Tri-Guild Audit Program.
- A modification and expansion of all arbitrator panels.
- Modified requirements for work lists and other information submitted by companies.
The talks are expected to last at least another week, possibly longer. The WGA’s current three-year contract expires May 1.