Today’s scheduled meeting between the WGA and the Association of Talent Agents — the first since negotiations broke off April 12 for a new franchise agreement — has been put off until June 7 at the earliest.
“Yesterday afternoon the agencies cancelled the meeting that was scheduled for today,” the guild told its members Wednesday. “They’ve asked to reschedule for June 7th.”
An agency source told Deadline, however, that “The time/place for the meeting was never confirmed. ATA has been communicating with WGA to try develop a schedule and structure that will work for everyone and will yield a constructive dialogue. Based on the feedback from WGA over the weekend, ATA felt it was important to create a structure for these talks to make them as productive as possible.”
The source said the ATA “proposed a series of small working group meetings to dive into each of the individual issues leading up into a meeting with the full negotiating committees. ATA proposed June 7 for the meeting with the full negotiating committees. ATA remains eager and willing to meet – this proposed structure reflects ATA’s commitment to making these meetings as productive and constructive as possible.”
Prospects for a settlement of their nearly seven-week standoff are not looking good, however, whenever they return to the bargaining table. Multiple sources have told Deadline that while there has been communications between the two sides over the past week, the guild is insisting that when formal talks resume, the agencies must present an offer based on the modified Code of Conduct that the guild signed with the Verve agency May 16, which bans packaging fees and agency affiliations with related production entities.
The major talent agencies have said all along they’ll never sign such a deal, as it would require them to return to a business model that hasn’t existed in decades.
When they do return to the bargaining table, it will be the first time they’ve met face-to-face since April 12 to replace an agency agreement that hadn’t been renegotiated in 43 years. After those talks broke off, the WGA implemented its Code of Conduct and ordered all its members to fire their agents who refuse to sign the code. The two most intractable issues have been, and remain, the guild’s demand for an end to packaging fees and the severing of agency ties to corporately related production companies, both of which the guild says are conflicts of interest that violate the agencies’ fiduciary duty to their clients.
Negotiations for a new deal began February 5, but the guild has said all along that there is no room for compromise on its key demands. “There are negotiations where there is no middle ground, where there are basic principles that are not subject to compromise,” WGA West president David A. Goodman said at a February 13 membership meeting.
The resumption of talks was prompted by an overture from UTA co-president Jay Sures to WGA West president David A. Goodman, a former UTA client. “If this dispute is truly about addressing packaging and affiliate production, then we are ready to get back to the table with you,” Sures told Goodman in his email a week ago. “We are open to concepts of true revenue sharing and have already committed to requirements of explicit client consent and overall transparency and accountability.”
Goodman promptly accepted. “Thank you for your offer to meet, which I accept on behalf of the WGA,” he told Sures later that day. “I do want to make clear that we responded on April 12th to your most recent proposal. We continue to believe that there is a deal to be made that aligns agency interests with those of writers. We look forward to hearing what you have to say.”
Sures’ overture came a week after Verve signed a modified version of the guild’s code. Verve isn’t a member of the ATA, but its signing was the first major breakthrough in the guild’s “divide and conquer” strategy to realign the agency business and rid it of conflicts of interest. All the major agencies, however, have vowed not to sign the code, but have been willing to return to the bargaining table to renegotiate their now-expired franchise agreement, known as the Artists’ Manager Basic Agreement of 1976.
Sures had also helped broker the one-week extension of the original April 6 deadline, during which the ATA, for the first time, offered to share their packaging fees with packaged writers and showrunners. The low-ball offer of 0.8% of the fees going to writers was scoffed at by the guild. Chris Keyser, co-chair of the guild’s negotiating committee, called it a “snub,” and the guild left the table without making a counteroffer.
“They have not put any offer on the table that addresses our fundamental demand that they realign their financial interests with ours,” Keyser said in a video two weeks into the walkout. “Their proposal, made right before the second deadline, of nothing on affiliated studios — and less than a penny on the dollar on packaging – is not an offer. Their refusal to provide basic contract information — so that the Guild can defend against the outrage of free work in features — is not an offer. It is a snub. It is an attempt to divide us, not to craft a solution to a real problem.”
The guild’s modified deal with Verve — and some of its moves on smaller issues with the ATA — are evidence that it’s flexible to a point, but that point is almost certainly greater than 0.8%.