EXCLUSIVE: The beginning of negotiations on a new contract between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers started off strained today – to put it politely.
“It was very tense and got a little heated,” one insider told Deadline about Day 1 of talks between the two sides at the AMPTP’s Sherman Oaks headquarters. “There’s a big divide when it comes to expectations and a lot of mistrust, more than I’ve seen before,” the source added. The talks are over a new three-year film and TV contract to replace the current one that expires May 1 for the WGA’s East and West branches.
The WGA is the second big Hollywood union to talk with the producers this contract season. Going first as usual, the DGA reached an agreement with AMPTP in December just before the holidays. SAG-AFTRA will be up next, like they were in 2014.
With the usual media blackout in effect during this year’s talks, the WGA said today it’s “not commenting on negotiations.” Also under that umbrella seems to be what time today’s meeting started — though we hear it was around 9:30 AM.
Even with the tension in the room and strike chatter on the lips of some union members, talks did seem to kick off with an improvement over 2014.
“At least, Carol (Lombardini) and the producers didn’t poison the well from the beginning like with those rollbacks they entered with last time,” said another individual with knowledge of today’s talks.
Just days before contract negotiations were set to commence on February 3, 2014, AMPTP sent the WGA a letter demanding “60 million dollars in rollbacks for writers, 32 million of that coming from our health plan,” claimed an email the union sent to members. That scare tactic sent the WGA into maximum overdrive and led to harsh words from Day 1 of that set of talks. After a series of stops and starts, the WGA and AMPTP reached a deal on April 2, 2014. The approximately 14% of eligible union members who actually voted approved that agreement on April 30, one day before the contract both sides were abiding by would have ended
Like they did in 2014, board members Chip Johannessen and Bill Ray are leading things for the WGA with ex-WGAW boss Chris Keyser and WGAW Executive Director David Young serving as the guild’s Chief Negotiator. The other 23 members of the negotiating committee include ex-House of Cards showrunner Beau Willimon, former WGA president Patric Verrone and Sneaky Pete co-creator David Shore.
Ex-officio members of the WGA’s negotiating team include WGA West president Howard Rodman, VP David A. Goodman and Secretary-Treasurer Aaron Mendelsohn, and WGA East president Michael Winship, VP Jeremy Pikser and Secretary-Treasurer Bob Schneider.
As my colleague David Robb reported late last month, the top goals for the WGA this year are threefold. They want to increase compensation for series TV writer-producers, stop the 10-year drop in scribes’ earnings, and get their health fund on steady footing.