EXCLUSIVE: The coming week will be a big one for Hollywood labor relations: The WGA and the Association of Talent Agents will resume talks on Tuesday for a new franchise agreement, and SAG-AFTRA will begin negotiations with the advertising industry on Wednesday for a new $1 billion-a-year commercials contract.
The unions’ current contracts expire within a week of each other: SAG-AFTRA’s on March 31 and the WGA’s on April 6. If they fail to reach agreements, the WGA could ask its members to abandon their agents, while SAG-AFTRA could launch a crippling strike against the ad industry.
The unions’ leaders have one thing in common going into their talks: Their members appear to be solidly behind them. But they’re taking starkly different approaches to their respective negotiations, with SAG-AFTRA in full “news blackout” mode and the WGA laying all of its cards on the table for everyone to see.
The WGA’s approach has been unprecedented, disclosing all of its proposals for a new deal with the ATA and openly feuding with ATA leaders outside the bargaining room. Shortly after the talks began on February 5, the ATA expressed “serious doubts about the sincerity of WGA leadership’s desire for a negotiated solution,” and released a lengthy statement outlining its positions on the WGA’s proposals to ban agencies from packaging and being involved in the production of shows.
WGA West executive director David Young called the ATA’s statement “misleading and pathetic.” Asked if writers will be urged to walk away from their agents if a deal isn’t reached, he told Deadline: “It’s really walking to agents that want to play fair. It’s not really waking away. Hopefully, there won’t be any need for that.”
The ATA countered by saying, “What is most important, and what the agencies always will insist as the absolute top priority, is the protection of the artists we represent: to ensure their best interests are served and their careers can flourish at a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty in our industry. That is why we are so concerned, and emphatically disagree with what WGA leadership is telling their membership about the practices of packaging, production, and commission of scale – because WGA’s proposals are simply not in the best interest of writers. Rather than working in partnership with the agencies to find solutions to the challenges writers face in today’s dramatically evolving media landscape, WGA’s leadership is focused on undoing decades-old industry practices that benefit writers and the entire entertainment ecosystem.”
SAG-AFTRA, on the other hand, is playing its cards close to the vest, saying that its “proposals are confidential and will not be disclosed.” SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris and national executive director David White have declined comment “due to the mutually agreed upon news blackout covering the impending commercials negotiations.” The union, however, has been waging a public “Ads Go Union” campaign to crack down on non-union commercials – a militancy that has given the strike jitters to signatory companies going into the contract talks.
Stacy Marcus, the ad industry’s chief negotiator, declined comment, telling Deadline, “We have a media blackout.” In October, however, she issued a notice for “prudent planning,” urging new productions to prepare for a strike by considering “re-scheduling production planned for April 1, 2019, through June 2019 to a date well prior to March 31, 2019. This is of particular concern if you are planning production for the rollout of a new campaign or are planning a celebrity production.”
By April, it should become more clear which approach worked better for a successful outcome: SAG-AFTRA’s usual “news blackout” or the WGA’s freewheeling line of attack, which could morph into a “news blackout” at any moment.