To My Fellow Members,
It’s been a while since I’ve reported to you about the progress of Writers Guild organizing efforts and the many successes we’ve had in the past two years. Organizing writers who work without a WGA contract is one of the key ways we strengthen the Guild and protect the standards we have all struggled so long and hard to achieve.
Our first priority in organizing is always to defend our core jurisdiction: network and cable dramas, sitcoms (including network primetime animated sitcoms), longform television, talk shows, variety shows, game shows, and live-action features. Beginning with our current contract, our jurisdiction now also includes original and derivative content in New Media. Our second priority is the expansion of our jurisdiction to areas where we currently lack coverage or where non-signatory companies have been operating, including reality television, non-primetime and feature animation, and non-fiction.
With those priorities in mind, here is a recap of our recent efforts:
In cable we have focused on Comedy Central because it employs a large number of writers. Working closely with writers on Comedy Central’s main shows, we undertook a strategy of escalating actions, culminating in a short work stoppage. One show at a time, we organized WGA coverage for:
The Sarah Silverman Program
Mind of Mencia
The Showbiz Show with David Spade
American Body Shop
Root of All Evil
Michael & Michael Have Issues
The Comedy Central Roast of Larry the Cable Guy
The Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget
The Untitled Jeff Dunham Project
Eddie Portnoy, Boy Producer
We continue to build on a positive relationship with the network and recently signed an overall deal covering all future Comedy Central roasts. We hope to achieve a more comprehensive overall deal and are currently engaged in efforts to cover all dramatic and comedy-variety shows produced by Comedy Central.
Elsewhere in cable we have organized and made deals for dramatic programs, quiz and audience participation shows, non-dramatic, and documentary shows. In all these cases, the role of the writers in providing information and assistance, and their willingness to refuse work if necessary were keys to success. Thanks to their efforts we now cover:
Tyler Perry’s House of Payne for TBS
Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns for TBS
The Cheech and Chong Roast for TBS
Match Game for TBS
The Singing Bee for CMT
Secrets of the Founding Fathers for the History Channel
Spontaneous Human Combustion for the Discovery Channel
The Tunguska Event for the Discovery Channel
Animal Armageddon for Animal Planet
Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?
Last year we signed a WGA deal for this primetime hit game show. Recently we also negotiated a deal to cover the syndicated version of the show.
Sit Down, Shut Up
We assisted the writers of this Sony primetime animated series in a work stoppage aimed at getting WGA coverage. To resolve the dispute, the company offered each of the writers six-figure “blind pilot” deals covered by the WGA and standard WGA terms for their work on the series, although the series (now canceled) nominally remained under an IATSE contract.
The Osbournes: Loud and Dangerous
Despite overwhelming coverage of the network primetime writing work force, writers have still had to struggle for WGA contracts on occasion. One of the essential ways members can protect Guild benefits is by refusing to work for non-signatory companies. Working Rule 8 states: “No member shall accept employment with, nor option or sell literary material to, any person, firm or corporation who is not signatory to the applicable MBAs.” This rule is designed to ensure that the only way entertainment companies can have access to Guild talent is through a Guild deal.
We invoked Working Rule 8 on the Osbournes program after the production company, FremantleMedia, refused to negotiate a fair deal. Guild members heeded the call and refused to write for this non-guild show, which would have been the first non-WGA comedy-variety show in primetime broadcast TV. To date, only one episode has aired, to extremely poor reviews and bad ratings. The remaining episodes may well never be aired. We believe that the failure of this show is a direct result of the company not being able to use Guild writers
The Guild organized and made deals with 26 companies that have become signatory to the WGA MBA for the express purpose of producing New Media content. Web programming produced by these companies includes:
Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
Woke Up Dead
In the Motherhood
Back on Topps
We have also signed contracts for Internet content from New Media production companies Machinima.com and Science + Fiction.
We have signed 44 interactive agreements to provide WGA members with pension and health benefits for their work on videogames. Our most recent deals are for Battle CMT and Project 9.
In the past 18 months we made deals to cover several high-profile feature films, including Into the Wild and Frozen River. Since the beginning of last year, we have made deals to cover 15 low-budget films:
The Blue Tooth Virgin
Bob’s New Suit
Children of Invention
Father vs. Son
The Red Queen
The Two Bobs
Women in Trouble
FOREIGN PRODUCED PROJECTS
In the area of foreign-produced projects employing WGA members, we have secured WGA deals for Noah’s Ark (an animated feature), The 99 and Bommi & Friends (animated TV series), and Poirot (a live-action series).
In reality television, we have pressured the networks and production companies through strikes at America’s Next Top Model and the FremantleMedia game show Temptation. In both cases writers walked off their jobs to protest the companies’ refusal to negotiate WGA coverage.
We pressured the entire reality industry through public exposure of the serious labor law violations by reality television production companies. We conducted a focused exposure of the most important production company, FremantleMedia, the producers of American Idol, with the “American Idol Truth Tour.”
As awareness of the abuses against workers in reality TV grows so does the number of workers willing to take action. Last month a group of FremantleMedia workers independently filed a multimillion-dollar class-action lawsuit against the company for its violations of California’s wage and hour laws. Two lawsuits brought by writers against Next Entertainment and Rocket Science Entertainment are in the process of settling for $4.5 million dollars.
ORGANIZING THE FUTURE
Defending and expanding our jurisdiction do not take place in a vacuum. The gains won as a result of our 100-day strike have helped change the environment in which we undertake our organizing efforts, and as this report reflects, we are making steady progress getting companies to agree to WGA coverage of their projects.
The Organizing and Jurisdiction Department has primary staff responsibility for external organizing, but every department of the Guild has participated in and deserves credit for our organizing successes. None of it, however, would have been possible without the support and sacrifices of you, our members. I would like to personally thank all the brave, committed, and hard working writers who helped with these efforts. Because of you we are all stronger and better off.
The organizing struggle is far from over and there is much important work left to be done. I know the Guild can count on your support and assistance in this crucial effort.
Patric M. Verrone
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