UPDATES WGA: Verrone/Bowman Dispute John Wells’ Campaign Claims

(DHD has been asked to post WGA West presidential candidate John Wells’ rebuttal to the recent election message sent out by WGAw president Patric Verrone and 2007/2008 negotiating committee chair John Bowman:)

My fellow members,

WGAW-LogoWhen I was asked by the Nominating Committee to stand for election for President of the WGAw, I agreed to run because I truly believed that I could, by virtue of my relationships and past service to the Guild, accomplish more for writers than my opponent in this election, Elias Davis.

I was asked to run by the committee at the last minute because once the Writers United candidate, Elias Davis, had been identified, the committee couldn’t find anyone with any experience in recent Guild office or knowledge of recent Guild politics to run. Why? No need to look farther than the election booklet you received in the last few days. Anyone daring to express any criticism of Writers United and its past or present policies is attacked and vilified.

Though surely more unites us as writers than divides us as political opponents, I had hoped that this campaign would focus on points of difference on actual issues, like the necessity of quickly repairing our relationship with the DGA or the allocation of the Guild’s diminishing resources.

Unfortunately, Elias Davis and his Writers United running mates have decided instead to turn this election into a prolonged personal attack on my character, integrity, and service to the Guild.

This campaign to discredit me reached a new low on Friday, with an eleventh hour attack by Patric Verrone and John Bowman, in which they claim, “John Wells has stated that he worked with Writers Guild leadership to achieve our last deal. We can state unequivocally that neither one of us had any idea he was working with the Directors Guild. ” And that “What we did not understand, and still don’t, is why one of our own would negotiate with the DGA without informing his Guild’s president or the chair of its negotiating committee.”

Let me say simply and directly that Patric Verrone and John Bowman are not telling the truth, and that they know they are not telling the truth. First, I have never said nor claimed that I was “negotiating” with the DGA or that I was “working with” the DGA. I clearly wasn’t authorized to “negotiate” with the DGA and I didn’t. Nor have I ever claimed to do any such thing. Read your election booklet and you will easily find what I have actually said. It’s right there in black and white.

This is a deliberate and not particularly clever attempt to mischaracterize what I was doing to try and help our cause during the strike. The claim made by Patric and John that I was negotiating with the DGA is patently ridiculous on its face. The DGA is a wholly independent union, fiercely proud of their bargaining history and dedicated to furthering their own members’ interests. If I had tried to negotiate with them they would have rightly laughed in my face.

What I was doing was trying to find out whatever I could about the details of the deal they were planning to negotiate, which would inevitably become the basis of our deal. And I was passing on what I could find out to John Bowman and several other members of the Negotiating Committee whenever I had something new to report.

I was also trying to reach out to anyone I could find at the DGA who would talk to me and trying to encourage them to strive for a stronger deal than I had heard rumored they were prepared to ask for. I spelled this out in detail to John Bowman and another member of the Negotiating Committee in person on December 14th, and then followed it up with a very specific email on December 16th that detailed exactly the message I was trying to get to the DGA and how I felt we might make some headway in trying to get our needs across to the DGA leadership and negotiating committee. This meeting and email were within days of the announcement of the DGA’s decision to begin negotiations in early January. What else would we have possibly been talking about? Our Christmas plans?

Here is the truth.

While our own frustrated Negotiating Committee waited helplessly on the sidelines throughout the DGA talks with the AMPTP, John Bowman told several of its members that I was speaking regularly to the Directors. After the DGA deal was announced, John explained my involvement on our Guild’s behalf to the entire WGAw Negotiating Committee. I’m told that he said, “John Wells did us a big favor.”

And on February 10th, 2008, John Bowman sent me an email that said simply, and I quote, “Good work on the DGA deal.”

Patric Verrone and John Bowman are speaking falsely to you, intentionally mischaracterizing what I have said and besmirching my name in order to win an election for their colleague Elias Davis.

As they well know, I was in touch with John Bowman throughout the strike by phone and in person, and I logged dozens of additional calls to members of the Negotiating Committee. John and I had meals together to discuss the situation with the DGA before the strike, during the strike and after the strike. And as I clearly state in my candidate statement, I know I wasn’t the only one doing it. I’d also like to point out that in all humility, I have no idea whether any of what I did actually made a difference. All I can say for sure is that I tried to lend much needed credibility to our very strained relationship with the DGA, and John Bowman was aware of my efforts.

Friday’s email was yet another attempt to distract attention away from the most glaring fault in our leadership’s handling of our recent negotiation. In the midst of a brilliantly run and orchestrated strike, our relationship with the DGA was allowed to deteriorate to the point where – and I cannot emphasis how extraordinary this actually was – the DGA felt justified in coming in and negotiating our contract for us. How bad was our relationship with the DGA? Patric Verrone hadn’t spoken to their President for seven months leading up to one of the most important strikes in our history. John Bowman made no attempt whatsoever to create a working relationship with the chair of the DGA’s negotiating committee.

Even worse, nothing has changed.

Patric Verrone hasn’t spoken to the President of the DGA in a year, with the exception of one call, and that call was made only when my candidate’s statement began to circulate a few weeks ago.

And yet, I’m being criticized for attempting to bridge the gap between these two unions…and I’m being shamefully accused of doing so as some kind of rogue agent.

In a perfect world, Patric and John would publicly retract their dishonest statements and apologize for these ugly and highly regrettable tactics. I would expect them to do this in the same manner as they made their false claim: both with a statement to the LA Times and in an e-mail to you, the members. But I doubt very much they will — it’s not the Writers United way. The Writers United way is to attack. Attack our sister unions, and attack their fellow writers who dare to disagree. Attack…to try and distract you from the real issues. And this is the perfect sort of Writers United attack, an email blast sent to the membership on noon last Friday, sent to coincide with the arrival of your ballots. Sent on a Friday when they knew that due to Guild email rules I could not respond to the membership until at least Monday after many members would have already voted. There was ample time to include these arguments in the election pamphlet so that I could rebut them, but that’s not the purpose of this type of attack. The purpose is to cause damage, not to allow for reasonable debate.

So now, to defend myself against these half-truths and deliberate misrepresentations of my statements, I’m forced to air even more of our dirty laundry and criticize the actions of the leaders of my own union. These types of attacks are not, I believe, in the Guild’s best interests. Should I be fortunate enough to be elected to serve you, I promise you this won’t be how I choose to lead our union. I would hope that should Elias be elected our President, he will make the same promise. There was a time when our politics didn’t mirror the sad spectacle that surrounds the elections of other unions in our industry. It’s long past time for us to return to the example of those years.

I want to respond to Patric and John’s last paragraph, in which they seem to be intimating that I will be unable to work with David Young somehow if I am elected. This is ridiculous. In fact, it was David Young whom I called first after accepting the nomination. I think David’s doing an excellent job, and I wanted him to know that he has my full support. I hope David’s going to be with the Guild for many years to come, and in that capacity he’s going to end up working with lots of different Presidents. That’s what EDs do.

Finally, I want to say that I hope this incident does not drive members away from Guild affairs. We’ll get past this. If our unity is strong enough to withstand attacks from the AMPTP, it’s more than strong enough to withstand these kinds of political smears. Remember, our best path to strength in the next negotiation is a high turnout in this election, regardless of whom you choose to elect.

John Wells
Candidate for President, WGAw