After less than a week back at the negotiating table, the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers have almost reached an agreement on a new 3-year contract. “Almost” being the operative word. “Last week we concluded our second round of contract talks with the AMPTP,” said Negotiating Committee Co-Chairs Chip Johannessen and Billy Ray and WGA West President Chris Keyser in a message (see below) to members today. “Every aspect of our contract has been negotiated and agreed upon with two exceptions — options and exclusivity — which remain points of contention between us.” Letting everyone in the room take a deep breath, the WGA and AMPTP now are going to take the second break of their contract talks. The two sides will come back together on March 31 and April 1 for one final session to try to reach a conclusive deal.
As I reported last week, the two sides were close to a deal even before they took a two-week temporary recess from February 15 to March 4 after an initial two weeks of talks. Even with that time off, the issue of exclusively and options, which the guild has made a priority in order to free writers from the purgatory of enforced unemployment, still was not resolved in the second leg of the talks. While no one is talking picket lines, the writers, unlike the placid negotiations of 2011, are adamant that there’s got to be some movement from the other side on this issue this time round, sources tell me.
The WGA and AMPTP initially started their talks on February 3 at AMPTP headquarters in Sherman Oaks. Johannessen and Ray are heading the WGA’s 20-member-plus negotiating committee, with WGAW Executive Director David Young taking lead as chief negotiator. AMPTP President Carol Lombardini is fronting the studios’ side of the negotiations. Following the DGA‘s deal with studios and networks late last year, today’s WGA announcement will leave only SAG-AFRTRA left to reach a new contract if the scribes and AMPTP reach a deal in early April. SAG-AFTRA are expected to announce a start date for their talks with AMPTP in the next few weeks. In the meantime, here’s today’s WGA announcement:
Last week we concluded our second round of contract talks with the AMPTP. Every aspect of our contract has been negotiated and agreed upon with two exceptions – options and exclusivity – which remain points of contention between us.
For over 50 years, writing for television operated on a predictable schedule. Staffs on dramatic prime-time shows worked for 10 months to produce 22 episodes, then went on unpaid hiatus for two months before returning for the following season.
But with the advent of basic cable, pay TV and now Netflix-type Internet shows, that changed. Short orders of 13, 10, or even 8 episodes are now the norm, and the predictability of the old broadcast season has vanished. As you have told us in showrunner meetings and scores of show visits, these two developments – short orders and uncertain schedules – have combined to create a serious problem for many writers.
Writers on short-order shows now find themselves working for half a year or less, then stuck on unpaid hiatus for open-ended periods while waiting to see if their show – and their contract – will be renewed. During this period they are virtually unemployable because studios demand “exclusivity” and “first position,” preventing writers from seeking other work, their ability to make a living cut off.
At a time of unprecedented prosperity for the companies, writers’ economic circumstances should not be deteriorating. These contract terms are clearly unfair and require a collective solution.
To that end your Negotiating Committee will resume talks with the AMPTP on March 31st and April 1st for a final two-day session on options and exclusivity. We will let you know how it goes.
Yours in Solidarity,
Chip Johannessen and Billy Ray
Negotiating Com mittee Co-Chairs