Email and phone messages already are pouring in about what they’re criticizing as this disaster of a tentative agreement (see WGA West notice to members below). It was reached at 3:30 PM today by the Writers Guild of America negotiators with the Alliance of Motion Picture And Television Producers. It took little more than 2 weeks of bargaining — and no wonder. What a joke. And it comes at a time when nearly all writers are wringing their hands and hanging by their fingernails to maintain their livelihoods under the studio and network cutbacks.

WGA West President John Wells, who is first and foremost a TV producer and patsy for Warner Bros boss and anti-guild hardliner Barry Meyer, looked after his own interests first. He kept his Southland budget down at TNT while also getting a hefty 20% bump for his Shameless writers at Showtime. “He took care of pay cable while allowing basic cable to make no gains, despite it being the most important area as far as growth. It’s like they accepted the producers first draft,” a source just told me.

Several veteran writers are calling this the worst deal they’ve ever been handed. Clearly, the Writers Guild leadership decided it had no leverage after the Actors and Directors Guilds threw them under the bus by accepting bad contracts and even the WGA membership gave them no hand by overwhelmingly (and understandably) opposing any mention of a strike. Nor did it help that the stock market has been tanking these past two weeks despite all the Big Media companies finding their financial footing again after the depths of the economic crisis. 

Here’s more reaction: “Katherine Fugate is congratulating herself on Facebook and calling the committee heroes, but they’re zeroes.”

Also, screenwriters messaging me don’t expect the WGA to protect their interests now any more than the guild has before given the flimsy new meetings on such hated topics as sweepstakes pitching and one-step deals. And who in their right mind believes “contract provisions [which] have been added that require each studio to send to its creative executives a bulletin stating clearly that spec writing is not to be condoned” can stop this institutionalized practice. It’s all such a WGA betrayal of screenwriters after the guild leadership went around to Hollywood agencies and pledged to work together to stop the studios’ blatant exploitation of movie scribes.

As for New Media increases, they’ve gone the way of the VCR and the DVD: what was negotiated first is what you’re stuck with now and seemingly forever if the AMPTP continues to have its way.

I had predicted Hollywood could most likely expect quick and easy negotiations. So let’s see… SAG/AFTRA spent just 6 weeks of jointly negotiating with the studios and networks on a new 3-year TV/Theatrical contract. The DGA took just three weeks and change. And the WGA could have bargained right up until its May 1st when its current contract ends. Well, why not speed talks along when your Hollywood Guilds are just rubber-stamping what crumbs the AMPTP are offering despite this rapidly improving economy. The DGA was first to make it plain early on that they weren’t going for big wages (just a 2% increase) or even a better New Media deal. Instead the DGA negotiators were focusing on increased Health Plan and Pension contributions. Same with SAG/AFTRA. Now the WGA focused on the pension plan. But all the writers I know in the guold who aren’t yet or once were big names are most concerned about losing their health insurance. There’s no mention of that today.

Hey, wait a minute: didn’t all three guilds promising that they’d do things different and join together and fight, fight, fight for substantially more this contract go-round and their rightful share of the money pie if only members elected more “moderate” leadership than the militants of yore?

Talk about empty promises. 

The moguls behind the AMPTP always intended to negotiate with the writers last (even though their pact was expiring sooner) to ensure there would be the most Hollywood pressure (synonymous with antagonism) towards them if they negotiated too hard. Although SAG/AFTRA and the DGA traded information during their talks, they left the WGA out in the cold. True, no one wanted another strike. But was the only alternative for the WGA to wimp out like the other Guilds?

Here’s the WGA West email that went out: 

March 20, 2011 

Dear WGAW Member, 

We are pleased to inform you that our negotiators have concluded a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Talks began on March 3 and ended today at 3:30 p.m. The three-year deal features significant gains in contributions to our pension fund, improves payments in Pay TV residuals, increases our minimums, and takes steps to address important workplace issues for screen and television writers. Your Negotiating Committee will meet tomorrow to officially vote on sending the tentative agreement to the WGAW Board of Directors and WGAE Council for approval prior to member ratification. 

Highlights of the tentative agreement include: 

Pension Plan Increases: The contribution rate to our pension plan will increase by 1.5%, from 6% to 7.5% of applicable compensation and residuals. In this time of financial volatility this increase goes a long way toward allowing the fund to meet its obligations for the foreseeable future. We will also have the option to shift 1/2% from the increase in minimums in the second and third years of the contract to further support the fund. This is a necessary safety measure should continued volatility in the financial markets require its implementation. These two provisions combined make as much as 33% more funding available to the pension fund each! year. 

Increased Payments in Pay TV: The annual reuse payments for one-half-hour and one-hour programs in Pay TV will increase by 20%. 

Increased Minimums: Minimum scale rates will increase 2% per year. 

Workplace Issues: Meetings of the Committees on the Professional Status of Writers for Screen and TV (CPSW) took place during these negotiations. The meetings provided a forum for writers to discuss a wide range of issues with film and television’s top executives. In screen, the topics included sweepstakes pitching and one-step deals. Additionally, contract provisions have been added that require each studio to send to its creative executives a bulletin stating clearly that spec writing is not to be condoned; and that each studio will facilitate an annual meeting with its creative executives and screenwriters from the CPSW. In television the topics discussed included product integration, promotional messages that appear on top of program content, and limiting writer employment option periods on series. Additionally, contract provisions have been added that increase funding for the Showrunner Training Program, provide acknowledgement that studio/network notes should be given in a timely fashion, and require each company to facilitate an annual meeting with its creative executives and television writers from the CPSW. 

As part ! of this overall package the Guilds agreed to several concessions. Network Primetime residuals will now be frozen at the current rates for the term of the new contract. Business class and coach air travel will now be allowed for certain short flights. Promotional uses of clips in new media have been expanded slightly to include certain consumer pay formats. 

Unfortunately, there are a few crucial areas where we were unable to make progress during this negotiation. Minimum compensation and residual rates in Basic Cable remain far too low and must still be addressed. We were also unable to clarify our jurisdiction over the rapidly evolving digital production technologies represented by motion capture. Both of these important issues will require our continued attention. 

Additional details of the new contract will be included in the ratification mailing. 

We wish to thank our talented professional staff led by WGAW Executive Director and chief negotiator David Young. This agreement could not have been reached without their tireless efforts on behalf of all writers. 

Negotiating Committee Members 

John Bowman (Committee Co-Chair)
Billy Ray (Committee Co-Chair)
Chris Albers
Alfredo Barrios, Jr.
Andrew Bergman
John Brancato
Adam Brooks
Patti Carr
Tim Carvell
Jonathan Fernandez
Katherine Fugate
David Goodman
Chip Johannessen
Warren Leight
Damon Lindelof
Julie Martin
Ron Moore
Jeff Nathanson
Jeremy Pikser
Shawn Ryan
Melissa Salmons
Stephen Schiff
Mike Scully
Thania St. John
Steve Zaillian 

7:30 PM: So say several news outlets. I’m out in the rain with no email/computer access and checking… (I’m dictating this).