EXCLUSIVE: WGA West executive director David Young has acknowledged that he told WME partner Rick Rosen that he “should kick his ass” during a heated phone call in August, but denied that he ever threatened to “kill” him, as Rosen alleged in a declaration filed in federal court last month.
Young’s version of the phone call comes fresh off of Wednesday’s signing of CAA to the WGA’s franchise agreement, and ahead of Friday’s scheduled showdown with WME in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
Rosen has claimed, under penalty of perjury, that Young “repeatedly threatened to ‘kill’ me” during the August phone call as the WGA and WME were trying to hammer out a deal to end their ongoing legal battle. Rosen said in a declaration filed in federal court last month that he was so alarmed by the alleged threat that he called WGA West president David A. Goodman to complain about it, but didn’t get a satisfactory response. A guild spokesman said at the time that “both David Young and David A. Goodman deny Mr. Rosen’s claims.”
Young, in his first public comments about the incident, said in a declaration filed with the court Wednesday that WME “takes the position that I do not deny that I threatened to ‘kill’ Richard Rosen. I did not make that statement or make any kind of death threat. I did, however, tell Mr. Rosen that he was an ‘asshole’ and that I ‘should kick his ass’ after he sent an email to his agents and Guild members stating that I was unavailable to meet because I was on vacation, when he was well aware from our prior discussions that I was in fact visiting an ailing parent. It was obvious in context that I did not intend either statement as an actual threat to do bodily harm.”
“Having spent many years as a labor organizer and negotiator,” Young went on to say, “I am well aware that labor disputes often trigger strong expressions of feeling and heated rhetoric. As I expect Mr. Rosen understands, any such rhetoric is not to be taken literally. And as I have already explained, I am a professional negotiator. I do not allow my personal emotions to guide my actions or influence my judgment about how best to achieve the policy objectives set by the Guilds’ elected leadership.”
Young also disputed a declaration filed last week by WME president Ari Greenburg, who told U.S. District Court Judge André Birotte Jr. that WGA members have told him and other WME agents that they are afraid that the guild will haul them before “tribunals” for failing to abide by the guild’s “vague” Working Rule 23, which prohibits members from being represented by unfranchised agencies.
In his declaration, Greenburg said that “Many Guild members communicated to me and/or to other WME agents their belief that the WGA’s rules are purposefully vague, have changed over time, and could be used against them by the Guilds if they worked with WME in any capacity. In addition, WGA has been telling different things to different WGA members – differences that the Guilds are using to their own advantage – regarding the application of their own rules. Members were also worried about Guild tribunals, losing their health insurance, and being blackballed – grave penalties for (ostensibly) violating Guild rules that were vague and constantly changing.”
But Young, in his declaration, said: “I have also reviewed the supplemental declaration in which Ari Greenburg states that the Guilds (the WGA East and West) ‘have been telling different things to different (Guild) members regarding the application of their own rules.’ Because Mr. Greenburg does not provide any background or specifics or identify any member, I do not know why he would have that inaccurate belief. Consistent with the instructions of the Guilds’ leadership and the Guilds’ public communications, the Guilds have, in communications with individual members, consistently informed them that the only work for which they are required to terminate unfranchised agents is work covered by the MBA (Minimum Basic Agreement), and that they can continue to be represented by unfranchised agents for other work. I have been party to many of these communications.
“Mr. Greenburg also states that he believes that Guild members were ‘worried about Guild tribunals, losing their health insurance, and being blackballed.’ Again, without any specifics regarding which Guild members were concerned and what the basis was for their concerns, it is difficult for me to respond to this, except by clarifying three points.
“First, the Guilds have not initiated any enforcement proceedings under Working Rule 23, nor could any such proceedings possibly be initiated based on a member’s representation by an unfranchised agent for non-writing work that is not covered by the MBA.
“Second, a writer’s entitlement to health insurance is a contractual right under the MBA and does not depend on Guild membership, and the Guilds have never suggested that loss of health insurance could result from violating Working Rule 23.
“Finally, the Guilds have never undertaken any efforts to publicize or ‘blackball’ members who do not comply with Working Rule 23, and have instead focused on maintaining solidarity and open lines of communication with members who have concerns about the Guilds’ approach to talent agency negotiations.”
Young also took the opportunity to clarify a conversation he had in July with Gersh agency co-president David Gersh about allowing managers – who are not licensed by the state or franchised by the WGA – to do the work of agents during the guilds’ long-running dispute with the major agencies over packaging fees and affiliations with corporately related production entities. Gersh said that Young told him that the WGA wanted to “use the managers as leverage against WME and CAA,” but Young now says that Gersh “misunderstood our conversation.”
Gersh signed the guild’s modified franchise agreement in January 2020, but last week, David Gersh submitted a declaration in support CAA’s reply for a preliminary injunction that would end the legal battle had the case ever gone to trial. Gersh, who was not a party to the lawsuit, said that in July, he called Young “to discuss the Guilds’ dealings with managers, and specifically the Guilds’ continued delegation to unlicensed and un-franchised managers of the right to perform the functions of agents who are licensed under the Talent Agencies Act.”
Gersh says he told Young “that it is unfair to the franchised talent agencies that the Guilds are permitting and encouraging these un-franchised and unlicensed managers to procure employment for Guild members, and that my franchised agency is losing clients to these managers. Mr. Young responded to me that he had been thinking about this issue, that he understood the concern, and that the Guilds are close to doing something about it.”
Young, in his declaration, says that “I have reviewed David Gersh’s statement in his declaration that I told him in August 2020 that the Guilds would not rescind the delegation of bargaining authority to managers ‘because the Guilds need to use the managers as leverage against WME and CAA.’ Mr. Gersh misunderstood our conversation. As I explained to Mr. Gersh at that time, the Guilds would not rescind that delegation because, at that time (and at present), some Guild members who are former WME or CAA clients lacked agent representation and were relying on their managers for representation. The Guilds’ decision frustrated Mr. Gersh because, as he stated it to me, the Guild was making it harder for Gersh and other agencies that were ‘playing ball with the WGA’ to convince WME and CAA’s former clients to be represented by his agency and made it more likely those individuals would return to WME or CAA if and when they entered into new franchise agreements.”
CAA dropped its antitrust suit against the WGA yesterday after signing the guild’s franchise agreement. WME, which is the last major agency not to have signed the guilds’ franchise agreement, is scheduled to be in court tomorrow for a hearing on its request for a preliminary injunction to end the guilds’ boycott until the case can go to trial. WME said yesterday that the the deal between CAA and the guild “is a positive development and suggests a path forward for WME to reach an agreement as well.”
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