strikeillust6.bmpFRIDAY UPDATE: WRITERS STRIKE AT 12:01 AM MONDAY; Zero Chance Of 11th Hour Settlement

LIVE-BLOGGING Thursday PM: I just heard from a source attending tonight’s Writers Guild Of America general membership meeting that the exact timing of the writers strike will be decided tomorrow, then announced in the afternoon. The thought was the labor action would begin early Monday morning when writers could turn out en masse for the TV cameras and set up picket lines which the Teamsters wouldn’t cross, causing headaches for production at the studios and networks. In response, the producers’ rep Nick Counter said, “By the WGA leadership’s actions at the bargaining table, we are not surprised by tonight’s recommendation. We are ready to meet and are prepared to close this contract this weekend.” But earlier in the day, Counter had claimed that, “due to overriding business reasons, no further progress can be made”.

hollywood-strike.JPGThe Screen Actors Guild will be joining the WGA picket lines, and the writers guild said SAG has stayed in the background of all the negotiations. The actors’ contract with AMPTP doesn’t expire until June 2008, so SAG’s president told the WGA members tonight that the actors guild cannot strike now but supports the WGA “100%” and will walk the picket lines with the writers. Meanwhile, the meeting heard from the guild leadership that the Teamsters are getting threats from studios (no proof was offered) after Leo Reed’s “Hollywood” Local 399 — aka the Motion Picture and Theatrical Trade Teamsters which reps over 4,800 studio drivers, casting directors and location managers — urged members to honor the WGA’s picket lines. I’m told a statement from the current General President of the Teamsters (not just local 399, but all of the Teamsters) was read with copies posted on the doors. It specifically stated the Teamsters support for the WGA and that individual members have the right, through the
“conscience clause” in the Teamsters contract, not to cross the WGA’s picket lines.

The WGA leadership said tonight it waited until the writers contract expired at midnight on October 31st to see if the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers prez Nick Counter came up with a last-minute (and expected low-ball) offer — but he didn’t. So now the Hollywood writers walkout is a reality. The WGA leadership gave final authorization for a strike and will email all 12,000 members tomorrow afternoon the exact date and time that labor action will begin.  Tomorrow, the WGA West & East board decides when is the most opportune moment for the walkout.

Tonight’s WGA meeting inside the Los Angeles Convention Center was attended by thousands of guild members. strikelogo.JPG(Variety put the figure at 2,000 first, then upped it to 3,000 out of WGAW’s 7,700 members; my sources say more were there than that.) Every seat was full, and scores more people were standing. The confab was, in a word, packed. Not only did everyone show up right on time, but by 7:30 pm the meeting was in full swing. WGAW president Patric Verrone and company got a 5-minute standing ovation when they entered. Attendees counted more than 20 standing ovations during the meeting, with more applause breaks than anyone could keep track of as well as a steady stream of clapping as WGA Negotiating Committee toppers John Bowman spoke first, saying, “If there’s a strike, it’s because eight CEO’s want one,” referring to the moguls who run Hollywood and Big Media. Cheers and applause rose from the crowd when the WGA’s negotiating committee’s Dave Young announced its recommendation to strike.

amptp_logo_new.jpgThere were also big laughs, a huge gasp, and even one round of boos all aimed at the producers. This Guild leadership is often described as hardline, but tonight’s membership at the meeting appeared even more hardline than their leaders. (Of course, anyone willing to trek down to the downtown LA Convention Center in rush-hour traffic must be a militant.) When one of the Guild leaders talked about some of the concessions they made during the bargaining in order to try to jumpstart the talks, there was dead silence. Then palpable anger from the audience. “Take those things back,” and “Don’t give them anything!” was shouted by individual members, followed by bursts of applause.

Friday morning, the WGA issued this statement: “Thursday night, nearly 3,000 WGA members packed the LA Convention Center. At this meeting, the largest membership meeting in Guild history, writers heard the WGA Negotiating Committee’s report on the status of negotiations. The Negotiating Committee reported that the AMPTP had called a halt to negotiations by demanding we accept the extension of the current DVD formula to new media.  They also reported that in three months of negotiations, the AMPTP has not responded in any serious manner to our initial proposals. The Negotiating Committee then announced its unanimous recommendation that the WGAW Board and the WGAE Council call a strike. Members spent three hours in frank discussion of the Negotiating Committee’s report and recommendation. The membership expressed their anger at the Companies’ refusal to bargain seriously, and voiced their overwhelming support for the Negotiating Committee, Guild leadership, and for the bargaining agenda of the WGA. The WGAW Board and the WGAE Council will meet Friday to consider the recommendation of the Negotiating Committee and to decide the next steps. The decision of the Board and Council whether and when to strike will be communicated to the membership by e-mail and through the Captains system, and will be posted on the WGAW and WGAE websites.”

For background on the WGA strike, see my 12:01 AM: Writers Contract Has Expired.

barton.jpgEARLIER TONIGHT: Not even Writers Guild Of America bigwigs are sure exactly when the writers walkout will begin. But all will be explained at tonight’s general meeting at 7 pm inside the Los Angeles Convention Center. (Could they have chosen a more lousy location?) One top WGA source speculates to me that picketing will start as soon as a strike is called, and that could be as early as tomorrow.  (But wouldn’t they want to wait until Monday when writers can turn out en masse for the TV cameras?)

Just now, the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers President Nick Counter issued this very negative end-of-day statement (continuing to refer to DVD residuals when what he really means is electronic sell-through residuals): “Due to overriding business reasons, no further progress can be made because of the WGA’s continuing efforts to substantially increase the DVD formula.  We are ready to meet at any time and remain committed to reaching a fair and reasonable deal that keeps the industry working, but the DVD issue is a roadblock to these negotiations.”

Tonight, a member of the WGA’s new Communications Committee blogs where the guild stands on the issues:

”What’s the biggest issue? Internet and New Media

What are we asking for in Internet and New Media? Two things: 1. Residuals for reuse of content (like replaying tv shows) on the internet. We’re asking for residuals of 2.5% of revenue — that means for every dollar they get paid, we’d get 2 and a half cents. It’s a flat percentage, so if they’re right and they’re never ever going to make a penny, well then, we won’t either. No harm, no foul. Since 2.5% is our starting point, in any normal negotiation we’d end up somewhere between what they want to pay (.3%) and what we’re asking for (2.5%). I’d guess 1 to 1.5 %. 2. Coverage and protections for original content (new stuff we create for the internet.) We’re asking for basic protections so that when we write original stuff for the internet, we have rights — health and pension, minimum amounts, credits and separated rights (so if we make some amazing character or show, we get the right to share in its success.) We’re just asking for the same protections we already have for writing in TV or film. Nothing new or weird. Just the basics.

What are the other issues? DVDs: Currently we get .3% per dvd, we’re asking for .6%. Translation: now we get 4 cents per dvd. We are asking for 8 cents per dvd. Since most DVD’s cost at least 10 bucks, that doesn’t exactly seem like a bank-breaker. Whatever. Enforcement of Coverage: There are lots of shows, like game shows, documentaries and talk shows, where writing is supposed to be covered under our contract. The companies sometimes just ignore the contract — which means folks don’t get health and pension, and if they ask for it, they get fired. We want them to stop that, and honor the contract they signed. Expansion of Coverage: We want to cover stuff where writers are working without coverage, which means without health and pension and other protections. The two big areas are animation and reality. We think those writers should be covered.

You don’t actually think you’ll get all that, do you? Personally? I think in a perfect world, negotiation involves, well, negotiating. That’s give-and-take, where we get some of what we want and they get some of what they want. So far, they just keep showing up at the table with more and more things they’re saying they’re going to take away — rollbacks on health and pension, gutting of separated rights, that kind of thing.

But they gave back those resid-whatever-thingums, right? Sort of. They took that one rollback off the table — but since they’re not moving on “digital delivery”, and since pretty much all content is going to be digitally delivered in the coming years, well… we’ll lose those residuals as soon as that happens. So without internet coverage, it doesn’t mean much.”