WGA West presidential candidate Phyllis Nagy says the guild’s ongoing standoff with the Association of Talent Agents threatens to “permanently destroy the primacy writers have enjoyed in television” and will lead to a strike.
In her latest campaign statement, posted on her slate’s WGA Forward Together site, she also says that a weakened guild will find itself on strike next year against the major studios. In a nightmare scenario, she imagines what’s to come on May 1, when the guild’s current film and TV contract expires and the WGA still doesn’t have an agreement with the talent agencies for a new franchise agreement – and three-quarters of the guild’s members have been without agents for more than a year.
On April 13, the WGA invoked its Working Rule 23 and ordered all of its members to fire their agents who refuse to sign its new Agency Code of Conduct, which bans packaging fees and agency affiliations with related production entities. At last count, more than 7,000 writers have done so. The ATA and the WGA haven’t met face-to-face since June 7, when the guild rejected the agencies’ offer to share 2% of their backend packaging fees with writers.
Here is Nagy’s statement in full:
“It’s 12:01 AM on May 1, 2020. We’ll have been in compliance with Working Rule 23 for over a year. This means that about 75% of us will have been without agents for well over one year. And with no agreement in place for new MBA terms, we’ll also be on strike.
“Our Executive Director has made it clear that as a Guild, we don’t make the best deals because we don’t stay out long enough. How long is enough? A year. Maybe more. Are we prepared to wake up on May 1, 2021 without reps and without work?
“Do you think this scenario is unreasonable? Do you think we can’t find ourselves there? If you think it unreasonable, ask yourself this question: Did you ever imagine our Guild would take action against our chosen representatives in the manner that we have and with leadership admitting, 4 months in, that they didn’t expect an action of this length?
“Because that’s exactly where we are. For over four months, we’ve been engaged in a divide and conquer strategy, actually negotiating with agencies who do not, by and large, engage in packaging, benefit from it, or have ownership stakes in affiliate production companies. In other words: we are successfully negotiating with people who can’t solve our problems.
“While it’s wonderful that some writers can return to work with agents, it’s unacceptable that the burden of ‘suffering’ leadership has asked of us is not borne equally – as it would be in a strike.
“Do the math. In the next eight months, we might expect the divide and conquer strategy to work with how many more agencies? Four? Six? Perhaps all the remaining ATA mid-level agencies will come to separate franchise agreements with the Guild.
“While I’d be the first to congratulate and cheer on the roughly 25% of membership who would benefit from those agreements, the vast majority of us would continue to unequally bear the burden of this action.
“As long as we refuse to counter the formal offer presented by the ATA in June, we will not begin to resolve the very practices leadership has given us for the basis of the current action –abuses of packaging, packaging fees and affiliate production companies.
“As long as we refuse to acknowledge that a divide and conquer strategy employed only against agencies who, by and large, are and always have been ten percenters does not hurt the Big 4, we will remain in stasis, harming 75% of our membership in the process.
“As long as we refuse to acknowledge that packaging continues to exist in our absence, with stars, directors, producers and intellectual property at the center, we will find ourselves on the other end of this action as writers-for-hire in a system that will permanently destroy the primacy writers have enjoyed in television.
“We have two choices in this election: Stay the course with current leadership. Refuse to engage the Big 4 – who create the vast majority of packages and all affiliate production deals – in favor of negotiating franchise agreements with non-affiliate productions and non-packaging agencies. Rely on lawsuits whose eventual costs can’t be calculated or covered by the Guild’s surplus.
“Or choose new leadership who will counter aggressively to the ATA’s last offer. Leadership who will fight to ensure that any gain from revenue sharing finds its way into the pockets of low and mid-level writers. It’s a binary. And always has been.”