The WGA held its final membership meeting today before the last ballots will be cast tomorrow for a new Agency Code of Conduct – and one week before next Saturday’s expiration of the guild’s franchise agreement with the Association of Talent Agents – and a possible mass walkout by writers on their agents.
“I’m sure the Code will pass,” said a writer leaving the meeting at the Writers Guild Theater. “My sense is that it’s going to be an overwhelming yes.”
“Absolutely,” said another. “Overwhelming.”
“Everybody’s on board,” said another writer. “The game is about to change.”
“The guild is very united,” said another.
“I think it will pass,” said another, who said she is voting yes. Her friend, however, is still on the fence. “I’m undecided, she said, shrugging her shoulders.
As the negotiations enter the home stretch, there’s been no movement so far on the key issues – packaging fees and agency affiliations with related production entities, which the guild says are conflicts of interest. After the last bargaining session on Tuesday, the ATA said that “There is no real exchange of ideas,” with the guild countering that “The agencies ignored everything we presented.”
“What do you think the agents are doing when they accuse us of not negotiating?” asked Chris Keyser, co-chair of the WGA’s negotiating committee, on a recent podcast. “They’re negotiating. That’s what they’re doing.”
Offering a glimpse into the guild’s negotiating strategy, Keyser said on the podcast that the gamesmanship and theatrics surrounding the talks – with accusations flying back and forth in the press – are really an integral part of the negotiating process. “Members don’t like the ‘game’ part of it,” he said. “It drives our membership crazy. But the problem is it’s actually part of what is in some ways a bit of theater.”
“What happens outside the table determines the shape of the table,” he said, quoting WGA West executive director David Young, the guild’s chief negotiator. “And the shape of the table has everything to do with what you end up getting.”
Theatrics aside, WGA board member John August said on his Scriptnotes podcast that “We’re really negotiating, We’re really trying to get to a place where we can figure out an agreement together and figure out sort of what this all looks like. That’s not always a simple process; it’s not always a calm and quiet process. But we’re really negotiating.”
August, who also serves on the negotiating committee, stressed that negotiations are not just about that “last deal-making phase where you’re haggling and trading off stuff. But negotiating is also communicating with your members about what it is you want; advocating for your position; seeing how much strength you have around that position. That’s negotiations, and we’re definitely seeing the agents doing that.”
“This is about building and exercising power,” said Angelina Burnett, a board member who also sits on the negotiating committee. “Negotiations come down to who has more power. And all of this rhetoric and all the organizing we do, the outreach we do – all of it is about building power. And the more power we can build, the better deal we get.” And Young, she said, “is a master at building power.”
“And there may be times,” she said, “where a thing is said in the press, in public, that makes you personally uncomfortable because you like your agent, and I totally understand that. But we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t think it built our power. And all of that is driving towards our getting the best possible deal with the least amount of pain. That’s what power gives us the opportunity to do. To get a great deal for minimal risk.”
As today’s membership meeting showed once again – as numerous others have before – the writers and top showrunners appear to be united behind their guild leaders. But ATA member agencies – including all the major agencies – appear united as well. They’ve got one more week to reach an agreement. After that, minimal risk for both sides could go out the window.
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