With the WGA’s franchise agreement with the Association of Talent Agents set to expire tonight at midnight, there are now no plans for a return to the bargaining table today to try and reach an eleventh-hour settlement. “No formal talks are scheduled,” a source close to the stalled negotiations told Deadline.
That, however, does not rule out informal talks. On Friday, WGA West executive director David Young said, “We’re focused right now on meetings with individual agencies and will meet with the ATA when they make a meaningful reply to our last two offers.”
ATA executive director Karen Stuart, however, told Young yesterday, “The time is long past for simply pushing paper across the table. Let us know when you and your committee are prepared to have a negotiation that addresses all of the outstanding issues.”
As time runs out, there remain few things the WGA and the ATA agree on. But they do agree about what will happen first if no deal is reached tonight.
The ATA has told its members that there are “several ways” they’ll know if their clients have fired their agents. “WGA members have the option to submit an online form to the guild, giving the guild permission to terminate a writer’s relationship with his or her agency,” the ATA said last night. “In this instance, the guild will most likely send a list of the writers who have agreed to sever ties to each agency. Some individual writers may also choose to terminate their agents directly.”
Armed with the overwhelming support of its members for a new Agency Code of Conduct – which bans packaging fees and would force agencies to sever their ties with affiliated production entities – the guild has told its members that it “has the option of unilaterally implementing” the Code that any agency would be “required to follow as a condition of representing WGA members.”
The guild has told its members that they don’t have to call their agents and “personally fire them…You don’t need to communicate with your agency directly, unless you want to. This is a collective action by guild members. All you have to do is electronically sign a form terminating your representation agreement. The guild will deliver the terminations to the agency in a group. The guild has prepared a standard termination form which will be available on the website and activated if and when necessary and you will be able to eSign it.”
The guild, as early as Monday morning, could also inform producers and studio execs that it no longer has an agreement with the ATA. “If and when the Code of Conduct is implemented and after the membership is notified, the WGA will send out a notice to all signatory companies and producers telling them about the tools we have available and how to access them,” the guild said.
Those tools include a Staffing Submission System to help members find jobs. “While no technological solution could fully replace the many functions of a good agent,” the guild says, “we believe this system – which lets writers submit their work directly to showrunners who are looking for writers for TV staffs – can help provide our members with continuing access to job opportunities if we have to walk away from non-franchised agencies.”
And the process of disenfranchising agents could begin as early as Sunday morning – after which both sides will be entering uncharted waters – and a possible battle in the courts. The guild has threatened to sue the ATA on several occasions, and says that it too could be sued by the ATA, as well.
“It’s possible the guild could be sued, and we are prepared,” the WGA has told its members. “The guild has done extensive legal preparation and we believe the law is on our side. We have been working with experienced outside antitrust counsel for a few years now to prepare and are confident in our legal positions. Additionally, the Guild is on strong financial footing and is in no risk of running out of funds should a legal battle become protracted.”
In the meantime, writers who are currently employed “will continue to work as usual,” even if no agreement is reached tonight, the guild says. And the expiration of the current agreement “does not prevent any deal that is in the process of being made from being completed, but not by an agency that is no longer franchised. Completion of the deal can be handled by a lawyer, manager, or franchised agent (that’s signed the Code.)”
The ATA also told its members that if they’re in the middle of a deal when the agreement expires tonight, “You should continue to operate as usual unless your client terminates your agency. If that happens, all agency services on writing deals for that WGA member must cease immediately.”
The ATA has also said that agencies will continue to represent WGA members who do not terminate their agencies. “While the guild may force writers into the difficult position of having to choose between their union and their agent, the decision remains in the writers’ hands,” the ATA said last night. “Agencies will continue to represent all writer clients who do not terminate their agents. Agencies have state-approved agency agreements that clients can sign if they want to continue to retain an ATA member agency. However, agents should notify their client that choosing to continue with agency representation could be a violation of Working Rule 23, subjecting the client to potential disciplinary measures enforced by the guild.”
If writers say they don’t want to fire their agents, the ATA told its members, the decision to remain with the agency “is entirely your client’s choice. You may continue to represent the client.”
But if it comes to choosing between their agents and their guild – and it looks more and more likely that that will be the case – all but a handful of writers are expected to quit their agents and stick with the guild.