Eight weeks into their standoff, the WGA and the Association of Talent Agents are returning to the bargaining table this morning for the first time since April 12. The talks are expected to begin around 10 AM PT.
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 affiliated production companies, both of which the guild says are conflicts of interest that violate the agencies’ fiduciary duty to their clients.
Before talks broke off, the ATA offered to share 0.8% of their gross profits from packaged shows with writers – a proposal the guild called a “snub.” The next day – April 13 – the guild implemented its new Agency Code of Conduct and ordered all of its members to fire their agents who refuse to sign it. At last count, more than 7,000 writers have fired their agents, according to the guild.
The ATA and its member agencies have also held firm. Verve, which is not a member of the ATA, signed a modified version of the guild’s code May 16, but no major agencies have followed suit.
Today’s resumption of talks was prompted by a May 22 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 via email. “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.”
Negotiations for a new deal began February 5, but the guild has said all along 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,” Goodman said at a February 13 membership meeting.
The WGA filed suit against the Big 4 agencies – CAA, WME, UTA and ICM Partners – on April 17, accusing them of violating state and federal laws by taking packaging fees on TV shows they packaged. The longstanding practice, the guild’s suit claimed, “Constitute unlawful kickbacks from an employer” in violation of the Taft-Hartley Act, which makes it unlawful for employers “to pay, lend, or deliver, or agree to pay, lend, or deliver, any money or other thing of value … to any representative of any of his employees who are employed in an industry affecting commerce.”