EXCLUSIVE: The WGA has wrapped up successful negotiations on two fronts in the past few weeks, getting UTA to break ranks with the other Big Four agencies by signing the guild’s franchise agreement and hammering out a new three-year film and TV contract with management’s AMPTP. And WGA West president David A. Goodman says all credit is due to the solidarity of the guild’s membership and staff, led by David Young, the guild’s chief negotiator and executive director.
“David Young has a reputation that I don’t think is accurate, of being hard-headed and unwilling to negotiate,” Goodman said in an interview with Deadline. “And what we’ve seen in these two negotiations that we’ve just completed – the negotiations for the Minimum Basic Agreement and the other with UTA — is that David is a negotiator; that David is somebody who works with writers and staff to figure out what it is we want, what our leverage is and also what it is we need to achieve.”
If the secret to successful negotiating is giving a little to get a lot, then the guild can say that both deals were a success.
“I think the flexibility in the UTA deal, especially, is so apparent,” Goodman said. “There was a narrative among some in the industry that the Writers Guild was unwilling to negotiate, and what we see in the UTA deal is the exact opposite. We absolutely compromised on certain issues that were important to UTA, but we did not compromise on the important issues that we raised, which were conflicts of interest, packaging and affiliate production. We compromised a little on ownership of affiliate production, but we capped it at 20%, which is what the SAG franchise agreement that didn’t get approved back in the early 2000s had in it. It was a compromise that we think we can live with, and it doesn’t in any way get in the way of the enormous gain we made for writers represented by that agency.
“And the flexibility in the MBA negotiations – David as our lead negotiator, he listens to writers about what writers need. He understands the business, and he understands how the companies are going to negotiate. And he was flexible in that negotiation, understanding where we can make gains where we might not expect.”
With respect to the UTA deal, Goodman said: “There were just certain things that we were not going to give up. There were three things we had to have in any agreement with a franchised agency: We had to have an elimination of the practice of packaging fees; we had to have shared information of writer deals – deal memos and contracts, and we had to have limits on affiliate production. And we had to have a guarantee that we would get rid of the conflicts of interest that were getting in the way of writers being properly represented.” Actually, that’s four things, but who’s counting?
“And the UTA agreement has all that in it,” he added. “Whatever compromises we made for them to make a deal with us does not undermine the integrity of what we needed from that deal. And that’s the really important thing in negotiations – understanding what your bottom line is, and trying to make sure that this is a good deal for writers. And in both cases, both the MBA and UTA especially, are very good deals for writers. The MBA, given the circumstances, we did very well and got some very good things for writers, including things the companies didn’t want to give us initially, but gave us because of the power of our union.”
The contract talks with the AMPTP, he said, “were a tough negotiation. Our members, like everybody else in town, are going through a terrible time, and we needed the solidarity of our members to get some really important gains in this contract in a year where we probably didn’t have as much leverage as we usually have because of the pandemic. But aside from the improvements in streaming residuals and minimums, we got important gains that were specific to the needs of our members.”
Goodman, who has been president of the guild for the past three years and part of its leadership for 15 years, said its recent successes “speak to the power of our members and their understanding that we are all in it together, and that’s really where it all comes from. It sounds corny, but that’s the truth.”
Of Young’s counterpart in the contract talks, Goodman said that AMPTP president Carol Lombardini “is very good at her job.”
Guild leaders say that the new contract contains gains “valued at more than $200 million over three years,” including a 46% increase in residuals from high-budget shows aired on SVOD. But WGA leaders say that the new deal, which now must be ratified by the guild’s members, also addresses another key concern of writers: their pensions.
Retroactive to May 2, employer pension contribution rates will increase by 1.5 percentage points to 10% for nearly all work, and another 1.5% to 8.5% for pilots and the first season of one-hour episodic series. In a FAQ sent to members, the guild estimates that this will add roughly $27 million in additional contributions to the plan in the first year.
The guild also negotiated the right to divert additional money from minimum pay increases in the second and third years of the contract “in order to further shore up our defined benefit retirement plan. On May 2, 2021, the Guild can increase the pension contribution rate to 10.5% by diverting 0.5% from certain minimum increases. On May 2, 2022, the Guild can increase the rate once again to 11.25% by diverting an additional 0.75% from certain minimums and 0.25% from other minimums.”
This diversion, the guild said, is as important as it was difficult to achieve. “While the pension rate increases are diverted from minimums, it is also true that with many screen and television writers working above scale, minimum increases have less of an effect on writer pay than do benefit contributions,” the guild said in its FAQ. “Stated another way, a greater portion of writers’ earnings are subject to benefit contributions than are subject to minimum increases. For example, we estimate that a 1% increase in minimums generates an additional $6 million in pay for writers. In contrast, a 1% increase in the pension contribution rate generates almost $18 million in contributions. As a result, forgoing certain minimum increases, but increasing the pension contribution rate, is a significant and favorable gain. That’s why the 2.75% increase to the pension rate is such a significant achievement, and one the AMPTP companies vigorously resisted until the contract deadline.”
In total, the guild said, it secured the right to increase the pension contribution rate by 2.75 percentage points during the three-year life of the contract, during which time the guild projects that these increases to the pension rate will result in an additional $117 million in contributions to the plan, “which is 40% more than if the Guild accepted the pattern pension increase of only 2% over the three-year contract.”
The guild said the Pension Plan’s actuaries say that “this additional funding will help protect the plan’s long-term financial stability and its ability to fund writers’ defined benefits in retirement. While the increases in the contribution rate do not result in increases in individual writer pension benefits, the added contributions ensure that our industry-leading retirement benefits are appropriately funded. Other plans have faced conversion to 401k-style plans where the benefit is no longer guaranteed. Our priority in securing the funding of our pension is a considered and, in your leadership’s judgment, wise choice aligned with the long tradition of union pension plans.”
See the guild’s FAQ here.
Increased pension contributions, Goodman said, “Is really important for the future of our pension plan. It doesn’t really affect current retirees, but it’s about making sure that our pension plan is still there and healthy into the future, which I think is really an important gain that we got, above what really the companies I think had expected to give.”
Another gain that Goodman said he is particularly proud of is in the area of parental leave – a portable benefit that goes with members from employer-to-employer. “This portable parental leave benefit is unlike anything that exists anywhere,” he said. “Most parental leave benefits are usually connected to working for one company. So we have one that’s portable, that applies to screenwriters and TV writers, and any MBA writer covered under the health plan. It’s really something that I and the entire negotiating committee are really proud of. When it starts next year, it’s going to be something that is very meaningful to so many members. I’m really proud that we were able to achieve a gain like that, where a member of our union can really get a benefit that allows them to deal with the conflict of work versus family.”
Parental leave, he said, “is the perfect example of a gain that we did not necessarily expect to get this year, but we got it, and I think it’s due in no small part to David Young and the team that he leads.”
Goodman noted that the guild also got writer-specific improvements on options and exclusivity, and in span for those on short seasons and mini-rooms. “There’s still a lot more work to do in that area, but we did make some gains. And we got rid of these discounted minimums that were disproportionately hurting under-represented groups. That was also an important gain. Obviously, there is always more that we wanted to do; more that writers absolutely do deserve, but given the situation we are in, I think we did quite well.”
The WGA did agree to a rollback in residuals from the floundering syndication market – an inevitability given pattern bargaining and the fact that the DGA and SAG-AFTRA had already made a similar concession. “The syndication rollback,” the guild said, stipulates that “programs licensed for reuse in the broadcast syndication market after July 1, 2020, will pay a residual of 2% of the license fee instead of the prior fixed residual formula. This will likely result in markedly lower residual payments for reuse in the broadcast syndication market. However, programs already licensed for broadcast syndication will continue to pay fixed residuals under existing license agreements, as well as any optional renewals or extensions.”
“That was something the DGA and SAG-AFTRA agreed to,” Goodman said. “That was something we weren’t happy about – that rollback. But given the situation we were in this year, with the pandemic, and limits on how much we could organize our members, that was a pill we had to swallow, and we did. But over time, I think the SVOD gains will be worth more to our members than what we gave up in syndication.”
Voting on the new contract will conclude on July 29, and a membership meeting will be held via teleconference on July 20 to discuss the terms of the deal, which were approved unanimously by both the WGA West’s Board and the WGA East’s Council.