EXCLUSIVE: More and more soap opera writers are being “bullied” by producers into requesting waivers from the WGA to take pay cuts, according to guild sources, one of whom described it as a “particularly insidious” problem that’s “cropping up regularly on daytime TV.” The guild, however, has been powerless to do anything about it because the writers are afraid that they’ll lose their jobs if they speak up. WGA sources say that long-lived CBS soaps The Bold And The Beautiful and The Young And The Restless are the ones the guild has received the most complaints about. “Writers have told the guild this is happening,” said a WGA source.
The guild contract requires a soap to give writers one assignment a week. But writers can ask for a waiver to cut back on the workload if they have a legitimate reason, such as illness or a family emergency. Some crafty producers, however, allegedly have been gaming the system by bullying less-favored writers into requesting waivers to reduce their assignments by one or more a month, even though they actually want to continue working full time. Sources say that some writers have been forced to give up a script or two a month so that an actor or a line producer can write a show or so a new writer can be brought in at no extra cost.
The contract language governing these waivers was meant to protect writers by mandating that the request come from the writer. If it does, the contract requires the guild to grant the waiver, but if the guild determines that it originated from the company, it can refuse. The guild, however, has yet to deny such a waiver requested by a soap writer.
Guild records show that from June 2014 through June 2015, the guild granted 23 such waivers to soap writers – 16 on CBS’ The Bold And The Beautiful, six to writers on the network’s The Young And The Restless, and one to a writer on NBC’s Days Of Our Lives. In the previous year, writers on B&B requested another 11 waivers, and Y&R writers asked for two. A spokesperson for Bell-Phillip Television Productions, which produces both CBS daytime dramas, declined comment “at this time.”
“The number of waiver requests have multiplied over the last decade,” said Karen Harris, a WGA board member and former chair of the guild’s Daytime Writers Committee who sits on the guild’s Waiver Committee. “Hardly a month goes by when we don’t have a waiver request or two.”
Harris, a former soap writer, has been one of those leading the charge against the practice. Contacted by Deadline, she said that she knows of one writer who actually wanted the waiver but said that “the vast majority are being told to request a waiver to accept less than what the Minimum Basic Agreement requires.”
Harris said that she has seen soap writers’ personal service agreements that “memorialize a reduced guarantee along with the condition that the writer seek a waiver every 13 weeks.” This, she believes, “demonstrates coercion on the part of the company and establishes that the waiver requests are often not truly ‘initiated’ by the writers as required by the MBA.”
Soap operas have been in a steady decline during the past 15 years. Ratings have fallen precipitously, and there now are fewer daytime serials airing on the networks – only four – than at any time in the past half-century. No new daytime soap has been created in this millennium, and many of the old favorites have fallen by the wayside, including Guiding Light, which ended its 72-year run (on radio and television) in 2009; As The World Turns, which ended its 54-year run in 2010; One Life To Live, which was cancelled in 2012 after 43 years; and All My Children, which was cancelled after 41 years in 2011. The latter two had post-network runs online and on OWN.
“Daytime has contracted,” Harris said. “The pool of available writers is large, and in order for any given writer to continue working in their genre, they’re finding themselves in a position of having to accept what the producers demand.”
She added: “The producers do it because they can. It gives them more flexibility to pick and choose and let the writers pay the price.”
Contacted by Deadline, Dan Wilcox, who raised the issue in his campaign for election to the WGA board of directors, called it an “unfair labor practice. It’s a way to hire people at below the contracted minimum.”
In his campaign statement, Wilcox noted: “Over the last few years, a couple of the companies have begun using the reduced-load waivers to punish some writers and reward others. The companies tell the writers in disfavor to apply for a ‘half-deal’ waiver or be fired. Given a choice between some income and none, the writers request the waiver.”
Wilcox, a member of the committee that reviews the waivers, wrote that sometimes the committee “learns discretely that a writer is lying and doesn’t really want fewer assignments. But so far those writers have declined to say anything in public, lest they offend the company. Without proof something’s amiss, the guild can do nothing.” He wrote that the contract language that allows the request for the waiver to appear voluntary “has taken the guild’s negotiating power out of the mix, leaving the writers to negotiate one-on-one with the company. We’ve set them up to be bullied.”
Guild records show that there is growing concern that the companies are pressuring writers to request these waivers, and that several members of the Waiver Committee continue to be frustrated by the waivers, which they view as pay cuts being unfairly imposed by the producers. Guild records also show that the guild’s staff and a majority of the board recognize that the daytime writers are facing increasing pressure to accept these deals, but that the guild believes the solution, if any, does not lie in denying the requests of these particular writers.
“Until some brave writer risks company disfavor and goes public, this is a problem without a solution,” Wilcox wrote, “Perhaps it is. But there are tweaks we can make to shift the balance a little. I’d like to see the Waiver Committee attach conditions to every one of these reduced-workload waivers making the arrangement non-exclusive, leaving the writer free to look elsewhere for more lucrative work. And if the new job would make it difficult to complete the old one, the writer should be permitted to terminate the waiver deal on one day’s notice.”