As the WGA’s ongoing battle with Hollywood’s talent agents nears the end of its sixth month, the guild is making the case for one of its demands that’s kept many mid-tier agencies from signing its new Code of Conduct.
That code, which went into effect on April 13 when the guild ordered all of its members to fire their agents who refuse to sign it, bans packaging fees after one year and prohibits agency affiliations with corporately related production entities.
Many mid-tier agencies, which don’t do much packaging and have no production affiliates, nonetheless have been reluctant to sign up because they don’t want to have to turn over their clients’ contract information and invoices, as is required by the new code. The WGA, however, now is reminding members why that’s still a key demand.
The union said:
“One of the wonkiest issues in this agency negotiation is our request that agencies automatically send writers’ contracts and invoices to the guild,” the WGA said today in a message to its members. “Why is this issue so important? It comes down to two crucial benefits this will provide:
2. Tools to fight free work, late pay, and underpayment.
“Knowledge is power. Agents have it, writers need it. With contract sharing in place, the guild will be able to collect overall salary data for the membership, aggregate it, and turn it into incredibly valuable tools that all of us can use. Think how empowered you would be if you could walk into your next negotiation are with information like:
• What’s the median salary for the job I’m about to take? That could mean industry-wide, or even as specific as ‘a first-time co-producer on an ABC hour-long.’
• In features, does Studio A typically only do 1-step deals? What about their competitors? If Studios B and C typically offer better terms, would I rather try to work for those places?
• What is my studio’s pay range for pilots? As compared to its competitors?
And so on.
“Then, instead of having to blindly rely on your agent to tell you that ‘This is a fair deal,’ or ‘This is the best we can get,’ you will ‘know’ whether or not that’s true. Instead of your representative having all the information – and thus, all the power – you will now be empowered.”
The guild says that its demand that agencies turn over their clients’ contracts and invoices will help put an end to free work and late pay, which it describes as “the twin scourges of feature writers everywhere, as well as of TV writers in development.”
“Executives and producers routinely demand that writers do numerous unpaid passes on a script before delivery,” the guild said. “It’s gotten so bad that an ‘8-week’ step can easily go on for six months or more. This everyday abuse makes it almost impossible for rank-and-file writers to simply earn a living. Same goes for late pay, which is shockingly common. And writers who dare to complain about any of this risk getting labeled ‘difficult.’
“So who can be the ‘muscle’ in defense of vulnerable writers? The Guild! By automatically receiving contracts and invoices, the Guild will know what’s happening. Invoices tell the Guild when a check is overdue, or when a step has been going on forever. And writers don’t have invoices, only agents do – which is why this has to be an agency requirement. We can’t do it ourselves.
“All that said – of course, the Guild is never going to be Big Brother. It’s never going to interfere with your creative process. The Guild cannot order a writer to deliver a script; a script is ready when you, the writer, say it is. But with the right information, the Guild can check to see if a writer wants intervention when a producer is coercing endless drafts. And by collecting and aggregating data, the Guild can determine who the worst offenders are in this area, and address that in a collective manner.
“Late pay is simpler – when a check is due, it’s due. Once the Guild has invoices, it can address late pay on behalf of writers. Again, WGA = muscle.”
The guild said that asking agencies to provide it with contracts and invoices is a “reasonable request, with ample precedent” – and pointed to the NBA Players Association as an example. “In all the major sports leagues, agents have long been required to submit all player contracts to their respective unions. So the NBPA, for example, receives all of LeBron James’ contracts. And just like the NBPA and other sports unions, the WGA has strict protocols in place to ensure that every member’s individual privacy is protected.”
The guild concluded its message by saying: “A core obligation of any labor union, in any industry, is to protect its members from abusive working practices. Contracts and invoices will provide the Guild with long-overdue tools to defend writers, and also empower us with data to take charge of our own careers.”
For the record, the WGA’s Working Rule #3 already requires members to turn their contracts over to the guild. It reads: “Each member must promptly file with the Guild office a copy of his/her contract of employment (whether such agreement provides for leasing of material, participation in profits, residuals or otherwise) in no case later than one week after the receipt of the contract. In addition to any other disciplinary action which may be deemed proper, an automatic fine shall be levied upon a member who fails to file his/her contract within two weeks after written notice that there is no contract on record.”