Veteran writer William Schmidt is running for president of the WGA West in opposition to the guild’s handling of its three-month battle with the Association of Talent Agents. Schmidt, who is currently co-executive producer of Paramount Network’s Yellowstone, describes himself as a member of the guild’s “loyal opposition.” He will be facing David A. Goodman, the guild’s incumbent president.
“My followers and I disagree with leadership in a number of areas concerning the ATA action,” Schmidt said. “However, we will not engage in ‘politics of destruction.’ We intend to debate policies, not attack personalities. Our ultimate goal is to bring the ATA action to a successful conclusion without trampling our union ideals and to be part of a healing process that will reunite the WGA membership in time for the 2020 AMPTP negotiations.”
Schmidt remains represented by ICM Partners, one of more than 100 talent agencies that has refused to sign the guild’s Code of Conduct. “I have not fired my agent,” he told Deadline, “although she knows not to procure work or negotiate contracts for me; I have a manager and lawyer who do that.”
This puts him squarely in conflict with the guild’s leadership, and could lead to disciplinary action. When the guild implemented its Code of Conduct on April 13, it said that “No current WGA member can be represented by an agency that is not franchised by the Guild in accordance with Working Rule 23.”
The rule provides that “No writer shall enter into a representation agreement whether oral or written, with any agent who has not entered into an agreement with the Guild covering minimum terms and conditions between agents and their writer clients.”
Two guild leaders – vice president Marjorie David and board member Angelina Burnett – have already called for in investigation into Schmidt’s refusal to fire his agent. Both are seeking re-election.
Writing on a private Facebook page, David wrote: “Since his statement is the first clear indication of a WGAW member breaking WR23, we will have to look into it. We can’t do anything without going through a fair process.”
Said Burnett on the same Facebook page: “This is the first public admission of a West member not obeying the working rule, and it will be looked into.”
Deadline has reached out to David and Burnett for comment, and will update when we get a response.
According to Article X of the WGA’s constitution, members found guilty of violating Rule 23 can be “suspended, declared not in good standing, expelled from membership in the guild, be asked to resign, be censured, fined or otherwise disciplined, or any combination of the foregoing.”
Schmidt is not alone in refusing the guild’s order that members fire their agents who refuse to sign its code. In April, the guild said that 8,800 of its current members had agents, and that “over 7,000” had sent termination letters to their agents.
But when the guild implemented its code, it also told members that “If you are represented by an agency that is not signed to the Code of Conduct, you must inform the agency that it may not represent you with respect to your WGA-covered work until such time as it subscribes to the Code of Conduct.”
“And that’s what I did,” Schmidt said, when he told his agent that she could not procure jobs for him or negotiate contracts on his behalf.
The guild also told members that “You may not permit a non-franchised agent to represent you with respect to any future WGA-covered work, including deals that were first discussed but not completed before the implementation of the Code of Conduct.”
“And I did that too,” he said.
So far, there have been no reports of the guild launching tribunals to discipline members who refused to fire their agents. “I understand that there was a group of leaders who wanted tribunals, but the moderates stopped them,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt, meanwhile, maintains that guild leaders did not have the authority to order writers to fire their agents. “Leadership violated the WGA Constitution by demanding that membership write letters firing their agents,” he said in a statement announcing his candidacy. “There is nothing in that Constitution, a set of rules developed by hundreds of writers over many decades, that allows such a thing. These letters must be rescinded.”
“When we voted 94.5% to give leadership the power to negotiate with the ATA, the expectation was that we negotiate,” he said. “We didn’t vote for a jihad against agents. We must get back to the negotiating table ASAP and hammer out a deal.”
The guild’s order that members send termination letters to their agents “divided the membership” and “created an unprecedented level of fear and mistrust,” he said. “Eliminate the letters; restore the union.”
“The ATA action has hit writers below the showrunner level especially hard,” he said. “People of color and women writers who finally gained a foothold in the business have seen those gains evaporate without the help of agents to fight for them. A union exists to protect its most vulnerable members. We must get back to the most basic functions of a union.”
Schmidt, who served on the guild’s board of directors from 1990-1992, said that if elected president, he will advocate for the formation of a Constitution Committee “to educate the membership of the rules that we should live by.”
“When I first started out, the guild Constitution was talked about in reverent tones,” he said. “We talked about it much like we did the U.S. Constitution. But over the last three months, half the members I’ve talked to don’t even know that the guild has a Constitution, which is how the leaders were able to get away with that letter.”
In his campaign statement, he also called for the end to what he calls the guild’s “magical thinking.”
“We are not a union of industrial workers in the mid-20th century. Our negotiations must be done with the sophistication and finesse that marked our 2017 negotiations with the AMPTP, not with the blunt instruments of labor battles gone by. We must adjust the present negotiation strategies with the ATA accordingly.”
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