Marjorie David, vice president of the WGA West, says the guild is “operating in good faith” to resolve the ongoing feud with Hollywood’s talent agencies, and believes it will be in good shape going into next year’s negotiations with the studios for a new film and TV contract as long as members stay united.
“Our solidarity is the key to our success in any and all negotiations,” she wrote in her re-election campaign statement. “We mustn’t underestimate our own power here. I know some writers have argued that the agency campaign will weaken us going into the MBA, but the only way that happens is if we act weak. That doesn’t mean we fail to adapt strategy with regard to the agents. It does mean that we stand up for a fair deal for our members.”
David is running unopposed for re-election after her two opponents dropped out of the race. Craig Mazin quit due to a family member’s medical issue, and Carl Gottlieb left the race because of his own medical issues. David was first elected to the post in 2017.
This year’s election has been dominated by the guild’s ongoing battle with the Association of Talent Agents – which David calls “a contentious campaign to require talent agencies to do away with conflicts of interest.” On April 13, the guild ordered all of its members to fire their agents who refuse to sign its Agency Code of Conduct, which now bans packaging fees after one year and prohibits agency affiliations with corporately related production entities. None of the major agencies has signed, and at last count, more than 7,000 writers had fired their agents. The WGA and the ATA have not met face-to-face at the bargaining table since June 7.
“This board election will in part be decided on the basis of the candidates’ differing opinions about the strategy and ultimate goals of the agency campaign,” David said in her statement, which is posted on the guild’s members-only website. “I believe we were right to end the ATA contract. I want to see us find solutions that benefit writers by restoring the relationship between agents and writers to one where agents’ income is tied to ours. There are a number of paths to a resolution, including negotiations, which ameliorate the damage done to writers by conflicts of interest. I assure you that we are operating in good faith in seeking these solutions. We have been asked to ‘come back to the table,’ but we are already sitting there. Our agreement with Verve, for instance, is a negotiated contract, and any agency willing to hash out their needs and ours, as one would in any meaningful negotiation, is welcome to join us.”
“The guild, however, is more than the agency negotiation, painful as it may be,” she wrote, setting out her positions on the other key issues the guild and its members are facing – including the upcoming talks for a new Minimum Basic Agreement with management’s AMPTP.
“MBA negotiations begin in the spring,” she wrote. “I’ve been a participant on past negotiating committees and never stop thinking about issues covered by our basic contract with the media companies. The Disney/Fox deal was not great for us or anyone else who works in Hollywood, and it means we’ll be facing even fewer legacy companies when we hash out the next MBA. There is one thing (more than one, but we’ll be discussing this with you further and soon) working for us, though – the stand-alone streaming companies are not members of the AMPTP, even though they are guild signatories and subject to the terms of the MBA. Still, because of this, Netflix, Amazon and other streamers are open to negotiating separate terms with us. In fact, we negotiated a deal last year with Apple that is better than the MBA agreement on residuals for streaming. Also, the studios may be consolidating but delivery platforms are still developing and changing. The big companies haven’t got much motive to force a strike when they are trying to establish streaming services on their own, and the streamers, whose original content will determine their ability to stay in business as legacy content is withdrawn, certainly don’t want a strike, either.”
Noting that the guild’s pension and health plan “is a central concern for every member of the guild,” she said that the guild’s 2017 contract talks “secured our plans for years to come. So barring a rollback attempt (and you never know what the companies may decide to spring on us, but I remain optimistic on this matter), we will have more opportunity to make gains in other areas.”
“While many of our basic bread and butter MBA issues…become clear as we analyze data, members themselves guide our priorities,” she wrote. “Screenwriters have been getting short shrift as fewer and fewer of them are employed by corporate film companies, and we want to make progress on such issues as one-step deals and bake-off pitching (which is spreading to TV as well). Please see my previous statements on this if you are interested.
“In features and on staff, women and people in other protected groups are still woefully underrepresented. Some of this can be addressed through member education, some by putting public pressure on both show runners and production companies to diversify hiring. We have tried to get the studios to institute even so innocuous a contractual remedy as the Rooney Rule, but we were rebuffed. We will continue to raise this issue in negotiations.”
The Rooney Rule refers to an NFL rule that requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coach and other senior jobs in order to address historical underrepresentation in those jobs.
“In addition, based on what we are learning from members,” she wrote, “we must continue to build on our work on parental leave; ending gratuitously low caps on some AVOD projects; the treatment and compensation of [writing] teams; expanded span protection and other matters…I have said before and will say again – an MBA negotiation involves a lot of horse-trading and everything doesn’t happen at once. But even introducing a new concept to the talks opens a door and can eventually lead to change.”
She also addressed the guild’s efforts to end sexual harassment in the industry, and to enhance inclusion and equity . “This past year, I was co-chair of the board’s sexual harassment sub-committee. We created a series of workshops for writers in conjunction with RAINN to help writers deal with sexual harassment, gender bullying and witnessing abuse, primarily in writers rooms. Discussion and questionnaires from these workshops are helping us to create a guide to conduct for rooms in general. Meanwhile, Glen Mazzara, who was my co-chair before he left the board but who remains a head of the Inclusion and Equity Group, will be working with Nicole Yorkin to create a program for all writers at producer level and above on ways to fairly and safely manage the fellow writers they supervise. We want to end the era of gender bullying (or any bullying) and harassment for good. In addition, we have made sure our employers are aware of their role in controlling the conditions under which writers work, both on film and television productions, with producers and in rooms. Studio HR has not functioned properly in victims’ behalf in the past. This is both an MBA matter and one we can deal with right now.”
“Inclusion and Equity is a subject the board and officers have seen as a priority since at least the time I came onto the board seven years ago,” she wrote. “It was one of the initial reasons I ran. I was proud to join Meredith Stiehm, Nicole Yorkin and other men and women in promoting gender parity on the board itself; last election, we achieved it. We want to keep it that way, and we also want to elect more people from other under-represented groups. I took this issue onto consideration when thinking about which new candidates to support in this year’s board election. In my own career, I have seen the positive difference it makes to have a diverse staff in any writers room, and when I was hiring last, I made a point of meeting with writers at guild meet and greets, which are among the CAP inclusion committee programs. The Find a Writer board, the staffing submission web site and our new sites to help producers find new writers began, at least partly, as ways to help writers during the agency action. But they have had the secondary effect of introducing new and inclusive groups of writers to the show runners and producers who can hire them. I’d love to say I developed these tools, but there are board members and staff who actually know how to do this stuff – I’m not one of them. But I have supported and participated in using the tools and think they are groundbreaking. They will remain helpful to new and under or unrepresented writers even after more agents come back into the system.”
Ballots in the election, which went out to the guild’s members a week ago, will be counted September 16.
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