Executive Director’s Update
September 16, 2011
As I set out to describe the state of the union, I find myself reflecting on the State of the Union, and what that means for writers. As important as it is for the Writers Guild of America, East to do well at our basic tasks (negotiating and enforcing contracts, administering residuals and credits, collecting dues, etc.), it is increasingly clear that broader economic and political forces affect our work and our members.
I don’t think it is enough to blame President Obama or Speaker Boehner for the strange stalemate in Washington, or to wring our hands at the full-bore attacks on teachers, pensions, and unions taking place in state capitals around the country. Even though corporate profits are up and mega-companies are sitting on huge piles of cash, unemployment remains high and that affects American politics. What is missing is the countervailing force of people like us. We need to put the “movement” back in the labor movement.
Which is not to say that your hard-earned dues money should be redirected to abstract or tangential causes. It is precisely by doing our work efficiently and effectively that the WGAE can help revitalize the American conversation. By making a real difference in the professional and creative lives of writers, we demonstrate that it is not necessary to surrender our economic and political fates to a handful of powerful financiers whose loyalty is to their own bank accounts and not to the common good.
Concretely, here are some of the things we are doing this autumn and winter:
We have devoted a lot of effort and resources to organizing, to bringing Guild coverage to more writers and projects. Recently, the writers at the Onion News Network stood together and won a first-ever Guild contract. Writers and writer-producers at four nonfiction basic cable production companies voted for Guild representation, and we have started negotiations at two of those shops. These folks have labored for years without health or pension benefits, working long hours with no protections. The struggle to win good contracts will be long and hard, and we will call upon all Guild members to support their colleagues in this historically non-union world. We continue to sign up digital media entities and to participate in the development of that part of the industry; at some point, perhaps very soon, significant amounts of money will flow into this space, and it is important that the Guild and its members be there when it does.
Negotiations for a new Minimum Basic Agreement concluded in March. The producers agreed to increase minimum compensation and to bolster the economic health of the Producers-Writers Guild of America Pension Plan by increasing the contribution rate. We are currently negotiating agreements with Hello Doggie (producers of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report), 1010 WINS, and the web operations at WBBM in Chicago.
Training, programs, and events
We have designed another series of classes, panel discussions, and seminars on digital media, which we hope will be funded by the Consortium for Worker Education. These programs will offer hands-on skills training in Final Cut Pro, digital journalism, transmedia production, web TV, and social media. We continue to present screenings, screenplay readings, panel discussions, and other programs relevant to members in film, television, and broadcast news, and we are putting together a revamped WGA Awards program for February 2012.
We have mobilized members to advocate funding for public broadcasting, improved election procedures at the National Labor Relations Board, financial support for television writing, net neutrality, and other issues directly relevant to the interests of writers and other creators. Members recently participated in rallies and protests called by the AFL-CIO, the Communications Workers of America, and other labor groups; solidarity is alive and well at the WGAE.
We continuously evaluate Guild operations to make them as efficient as possible. The reality is that we are spending more on operations than we collect in dues. We are fortunate to have a rainy day fund in the form of long-accumulated savings. We believe now is the time to build and grow the union through organizing and through events and programs that bring members together and enhance their skills as our industries continue to transform.