AMPTP Shuns LA City Council Hearing…

The Los Angeles City Council’s Housing, Community, and Economic Development Committee held a hearing on the economic impact of the Writers Guild of America strike on the local and regional economy, but the AMPTP declined to attend. “We asked them to testify, and they said they would consider it. But then last night they said no,” an LA City Council source told me. “We were very disappointed.” Instead, on the AMPTP’s behalf, the Motion Picture Association of America inserted a statement into the record.

I asked why the negotiators for the studios and networks didn’t show (a fact which Variety buried in the 3rd paragraph of its account of the hearing). “MPAA got involved because they rep us before the City Council, and because it was their area of expertise – economic impact,” an insider told me. “The MPAA represents the companies before all levels of government throughout the world. MPAA also provides economic data and information on the motion picture and television business to the public, on behalf of our members. But you are right that no individual from MPAA or AMPTP took part in the actual hearing.”

The WGA, which showed up in force for the 7:30 AM hearing despite pouring rain, issued a statement that the AMPTP’s “refusal shows a callous disregard for the people of Los Angeles. First these companies walked away from the bargaining table, and today they chose to ignore the economic hardship their actions have caused. The WGA would like to solve this problem and get everyone back to work, but that can’t be done until the other side comes back to the table.”

The Los Angeles City Council approved a resolution today urging the two sides to return to the bargaining table.

On the subject of the strike’s financial impact, the government panel was told by one economist that the LA County economy could take a $380 million hit if the writers’ strike continues as long as the 1988 labor action, which last 22 weeks. But that figure is 1/10 of 1% of the LA economy, so the overall impact was said to be “very modest”. But that was strongly disputed by other number crunchers who told the committee that the strike was already having a major impact on the city, including a significant drop in sales tax revenues. One WGA strike captain who attended the hearing emailed me: “The $300 million impact was presented by an economist shill for the moguls whose basic premise was that as people left television they would go to other jobs that would help LA’s economy. This was quickly rebuked by the objective Film LA and another representative of the city’s accounting office who both asserted that a prolonged strike could cripple LA’s already teetering economy. John Bowman estimated that a prolonged strike could ultimately cost upwards of 2 billion unrecoverable dollars.”

John Bowman, chairman of the WGA’s negotiating committee, testified with hundreds of Guild members in attendance. (Photos above by Jim Stevenson.) He said the strike is about “fighting to maintain the livelihoods of Los Angeles’ middle-class writers working in the entertainment industry. The typical WGA member makes about $62,000 a year. It’s a strike we believe we were forced into and one that is now being prolonged by the AMPTP.”

Testifying with her baby in her arms (photo left by Jim Stevenson), Betsy Thomas, writer and producer of the TBS show My Boys, said WGA writers are not living extravagant lifestyles and deserve to benefit from new technologies that are making money for the studios. “My writers drive Hondas and Toyotas, and we’re middle class. It makes me sick that my crew will be out of work and that these writers will be out of work. I feel such a responsibility for the people who work for me, and I just hope that the studios will feel the same.”

The MPAA submitted a statement to the committee that said “the economic consequences of the strike cannot be measured solely by wages. In addition to lost wages are the costs from the lack of sales of goods and services that go into production, which is an estimated additional $300 million. It also means that scores of other businesses from prop houses to caterers that serve production daily in Los Angeles have also had to lay off
numerous employees.” (Below, press conference with Eric Garcetti. Photo by Jim Stevenson.)

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