2ND UPDATE, June 21: Oscar-nominated Carol screenwriter Phyllis Nagy has responded to WGA West executive director David Young in what has become a meaningful discussion of the main issues stemming from the current standoff between the guild and the Association of Talent Agents.
Nagy wrote the original June 17 letter to Young, signed by 20 prominent film and TV writers, which asked questions pertaining to the guild leadership’s strategy on packaging fees and agency affiliated production companies as well as its policy towards board or negotiating committee members who are working with such companies. Deadline published the letter, followed by Young’s response.
Nagy has now penned a response to Young, which Deadline has obtained a copy of. It addresses both Young’s answers as well as the video announcement yesterday by WGA West president David A. Goodman that the guild is rejecting ATA’s latest offer, taking the packaging fee revenue sharing option off the table, and will be pursuing negotiations with individual agencies.
In her letter, Nagy cited the broad, one-line question on the Code of Conduct ballot, Do you authorize the Board and Council to implement an Agency Code of Conduct, if and when it becomes advisable to do so, upon expiration of the current AMBA on April 6, 2019?
“It does not suggest that we in any way authorized the filing of lawsuits or the wholesale firing of our agency representatives. It does not provide a mandate for addressing conflicts of interest in whatever way you see fit,” Nagy wrote, suggesting that had those talking points been put in the vote authorization, the results may have been different. (Nagy also questioned the accuracy of the 95.7% approval figure touted by the guild’s leadership.)
In the original letter to Young, the writers called the lack of response from Guild leadership to ATA’s proposals “a breach of the trust” of the membership, a qualification Young strongly disagreed with.
In her follow-up letter, Nagy brought up another potential breach, quoting from the Executive Director job description: Establish and maintain uniform terms and conditions under which Guild members may be represented by agents in connection with their writing services and their literary material;
“Deny our assertions about breach of trust if you will, but the above suggests that it is also a breach of your duty to not “maintain” terms and conditions that make it possible for us to continue working with our agents,” Nagy wrote before suggesting that Young put “the current course of leadership action to another membership-wide vote.”
Below the post, you can read Nagy’s entire letter, which ends with a quote by Leo Tolstoy, along with her original email and Young’s response.
UPDATE, June 20, 10:40 AM: WGA West Executive Director David Young has responded to a petition signed by 20 guild members that asks for transparency from leadership on the WGA’s endgame in the impasse with the Association of Talent Agents and suggests that leaders with conflicted interests should step aside. “Anyone who reveals their bottom line position early in a negotiation has committed a grave strategic error,” he wrote. Read his full letter at the bottom of the post.
PREVIOUSLY, 7:40 AM: As the dispute between WGA and ATA heads into a third month with guild leadership rebuking the latest offer, a petition written to WGA leadership by 20 established scribes sent earlier this week — before the most recent proposal rejection — is making the rounds and Deadline found a copy. The petition requests transparency from leadership on the WGA’s endgame and suggests that leaders with conflicted interests should step aside. Latter issue flared up when it was revealed that WGA negotiator Chris Keyser was shopping a series package produced by Endeavor Content. Here is the missive:
Phyllis Nagy’s response to Young’s reply:
Thank you for your response.
To summarize, your answers to our questions are:
1. You intend to eliminate packaging fees; David Goodman’s last video message took revenue sharing off the table.
2. You did not answer except to say you have a “proposal on the table” that reflects an “overwhelming” response from the membership on this issue. I do not recall such a response being formally solicited from membership in the months since this action began, however.
3. We take it your answer is “no.”
Though I am CCing the signatories to our original letter, I want to make it clear that I am writing to you representing my own views here, some or all of which may be shared by various signatories.
In April, membership voted on one question put to us simply:
“Do you authorize the Board and Council to implement an Agency Code of Conduct, if and when it becomes advisable to do so, upon expiration of the current AMBA on April 6, 2019?”
Nothing in an assent to that question suggests anything other than a desire on the part of the membership to have and maintain an agency code of conduct, and that we expected a negotiation to occur. It does not suggest that we in any way authorized the filing of lawsuits or the wholesale firing of our agency representatives. It does not provide a mandate for addressing conflicts of interest in whatever way you see fit. These, among other things, were talking points at numerous house meetings leading up to the vote. Meetings at which you heard hundreds of writers objecting to these talking points, expressing their concerns and worries. You were as dismissive and condescending to us then as you are in your response to us today. Had those points been enumerated in the vote authorization put to us, I sincerely doubt you’d have the 95.3% membership assent you feel necessary to remind us of— but since you do, let’s take a look at that number.
It’s impossible to know how many full voting members of the WGA there are as we don’t have those numbers. By many estimates, there are about 15,000 members. We do know that a total of 8,374 members cast votes— slightly less than 56% of the membership. That is hardly the guild entire.
It’s impossible to know how many of our members work in any given year or have agents, as we are not privy to those numbers. But in 2017, the last year for which there are figures, a total of 6610 guild members actually worked.
I wonder if leadership considered these numbers and what they mean before asking for a vote. I wonder when and if leadership will consider it necessary to formally gauge the current feelings of working membership about this action.
I’d like to quote from the guild constitution, specifically from the job description of the Executive Director:
h. Establish and maintain uniform terms and conditions under which Guild members may be represented by agents in connection with their writing services and their literary material;
Deny our assertions about breach of trust if you will, but the above suggests that it is also a breach of your duty to not “maintain” terms and conditions that make it possible for us to continue working with our agents. That you are now shifting strategy to negotiate individually with the agencies does not suggest a way forward to provide “uniform terms and conditions” for our representation to continue, either.
Finally, rather than lecture us on the nature of dissent, majority rule and democracy, why not test your theories and put the current course of leadership action to another membership-wide vote?
“Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.”
― Leo Tolstoy
Nagy’s original letter to Young, signed by 20 prominent WGA members:
17 June 2019
Dear WGA Officers, Board and Negotiating Committee:
It is time to be clear and transparent with membership about your endgame for reaching an agreement with the ATA.
On June 7, the ATA made its second proposal to the Negotiating Committee. To date, there has been no response or counter to that proposal.
As this action enters its third month, this lack of response from Guild leadership to the substance of the proposal is a breach of the trust membership placed in you to negotiate a new code of conduct with our agencies. We did not vote for a stand-off. Further, the lack of transparency with membership is disrespectful. Our trust and loyalty are not blind.
When we strike, we know precisely what we strike for in cogently articulated points; we are presented with the endgame. In this case, a non-strike renegotiation of a contract with our own employees, we have been granted none of that. “Aligning agents’ interests with the interests of writers” is no longer sufficient when membership is asked to “sacrifice” — especially in light of the growing unease regarding conflicts of interest involving board and negotiating committee members.
Given the confusion and concern that this is now generating amongst members, we ask you these simple questions:
1. You have stated that packaging fees are “illegal.” Is it your goal to eliminate packaging fees entirely; or is it your intention to negotiate a revenue sharing solution for membership?
2. Is it your intention to refuse to reach an agreement with the ATA unless the Big 4 agrees to divest of affiliate production company ownership; or is it your aim to negotiate an ownership stake in profits for membership?
3. Will you ask any current board or negotiating committee member who is actively in talks with a Big 4 affiliate production company — either directly or through an intermediary — to resign in order to avoid any appearance of conflict?
We’d appreciate your direct answers,
Young’s reply to Nagy:
Thank you for your message. I will try to respond in the order of the points you’ve made below.
I’ve never seen the term “endgame” used in the fashion of the last few months; at times it seems to mean a bottom line negotiation position, at others a question about exactly how or when the struggle will end. In both cases it is very difficult to give an exact answer.
Anyone who reveals their bottom line position early in a negotiation has committed a grave strategic error.
I think that the answer to the second question — can you tell me when this will be over — is that I cannot. Fixing a 43-year old agreement is not a simple matter. As David Goodman told the membership in our March meetings, just before the 95% agency vote, “Like every union struggle, this one involves the exercise of collective power, and there is no way around the risk and the uncertainty.” Part of the uncertainty is not knowing exactly how long it will take to get a fair deal. Often that is the toughest part. We hope writers will support the campaign until we can get that fair deal.
To the extent my answers here regarding “endgame” are limited or conditional, I would suggest to you that the other party in any negotiation would express similar limitations and uncertainty. In the current situation, nobody seems to demand such answers from the ATA, and sometimes it begins to feel as if agency talking points are being used only to question the Guild, although I know that is not your intention.
The ATA did make a proposal on June 7th. The Guild will have a response this week.
On the issue of breach of trust, I disagree completely with your assertion. Through member meetings and communications going back to spring of 2018, Guild elected leadership laid out its goals and proposals for the agency representation agreement. We did so again in 2019, both with membership and in our written proposals to the ATA. We have continued to make changes and adjustments to our proposals since February of this year in negotiations with the ATA as well as with individual agencies.
What membership voted for, 95.3% strong, was a vividly clear statement that our goal was to address agency conflict of interest –among other goals – in ways specifically stated in all of those meetings and in our written proposals, available to membership before the vote. In fact the vote itself was on the very question of whether or not to undertake a collective action as writers if an acceptable solution was not negotiated by early April.
How an economic contest gets decided in the labor arena is through the process of conflict, struggle, negotiation and ultimate resolution. The Guild is still in that process with the agencies, and we have tried to be transparent with membership throughout. I think you confuse your minority dissent – which is your absolute right – with the right to tell elected leadership and an overwhelming majority of membership to accept the process or outcome that you’d like to see. That does not make sense in a democracy, and to call us disrespectful for this seems, frankly, disrespectful of those in the majority and in leadership.
As to what the struggle is about, the proposals, goals and actual Code of Conduct, plus actual contract language, have been available to membership on the Guild website and updated constantly since April of last year. As compared with negotiation of the MBA, I think the information has been as “cogently articulated”, if not more so, than during negotiations with the companies. Many times in MBA negotiations the membership knows very little about what is actually occurring in the room as we move toward deadline. For your information, here are the website links to the agency campaign documents that I’ve mentioned:
As to your specific questions 1-3:
1. It remains our goal to eliminate conflicts of interest, e.g., packaging fees. Revenue sharing as a concept will be addressed by the Guild this week.
2. We have a proposal on the table regarding “affiliate production.” It reflects the overwhelming sentiment of member response on this issue. I cannot say more during a negotiation about where we’ll end up. I’m sure you will understand that, as I explained above, certain negotiation strategies and positions must remain confidential as long as possible.
3. I believe that elected leadership, thus far and moving forward, will continue to hold every writer to exactly the same standard, as laid out in the WR23 Rules linked here:
Thanks again for writing.
David J. Young
Writers Guild of America, West