If a threatened writers strike is to be averted tonight, it will almost certainly come down to the bargaining skills of Alliance of Motion Picture & TV Producers president Carol Lombardini. The WGA’s members are angry, feeling scorned by the industry’s current business model – fewer films being produced and fewer episodes of TV shows airing per season. Making matters worse, the WGA health plan is going broke. So Lombardini’s job will be a tough one – to rescue the health plan and get the 350 companies she represents to agree to pony up just enough money to make the WGA just satisfied enough to accept her last, best and final offer.
It’s going to be a close call, but Lombardini has a perfect track record of averting industrywide shutdowns. In her 7 1/2 years as the companies’ chief bargaining representative, she’s negotiated dozens of major contracts without a single strike. The industry’s last strike – the WGA’s 100-day walkout of 2007-2008 – came during the 27-year reign of her predecessor Nick Counter.
Lombardini, who took over after Counter retired in 2009, has been with the AMPTP since its inception in 1982, serving previously as its general counsel and EVP Legal and Business Affairs. So she knows the score.
But to keep her track record perfect, she’ll have to persuade the companies to dig a little deeper to find the money needed to keep the production line moving, and to convince the WGA the companies will go only this far and no farther.
If both sides come to fully understand each other’s true bottom lines, it becomes more like a game of chess, where all the pieces are in full view, rather than a game of poker, where the cards are hidden and bluffing a bad hand can lead to financial ruin. In poker, one side wins and the other loses, every time. But in chess, there’s a third option — a draw. And that may be the best both sides can wish for tonight.
The first sign that a deal may be at hand could come tonight if the two sides agree to extend the contract to allow bargaining to continue past midnight PT, when the WGA’s current film and TV contract expires.