Contract 2007: A Storyline Based on Fact

 

 

Written by John Bowman, Chair, Negotiating Committee

As we look to Contract 2007 and the opening round of negotiations on

July 16, the Guild is following a story arc different from the one the

AMPTP might have in mind. In the past, management has tried to take

advantage of our internal divisions and fragile relationships with

sister guilds. This year, our strategic approach to bargaining has

emphasized member mobilization, organizing and finding common ground

with our natural allies. We believe we are better prepared than ever to

negotiate a fair and reasonable agreement that will protect all of our

interests in the years ahead. And that's a good thing, because we have

serious issues to negotiate.

Let's first examine residuals. For over half a century, the WGA and

our sister guilds SAG, AFTRA and the DGA have bargained with the

Companies to win contractual residuals that grant us compensation for

the reuse of our work, with different rates based on the manner of

distribution (broadcast, cable, home video, etc.) and the source of

revenue (advertising-supported vs. subscription). The right of the

writers, actors and directors to be compensated for reuse of the

content they create is firmly established by years of precedent, even

when we have disputed the fairness of a particular formula.

The Internet is a new distribution channel, and we believe the

existing provisions of the MBA require residual compensation for our

work when it is re-used on the Internet. Management, however, has

refused to accept this interpretation, and has even threatened to do

away with residuals altogether in this new medium, or to impose the

outdated and unfair home video formula. Given that residual income can

amount to between 20 to 50 percent of a writer's income, we clearly

can't allow management unilaterally to dictate this most essential

contract term.

There is no need for conflict on this issue-the Companies are doing

very well in the marketplace. As the chairman of one of the Big Six

media conglomerates recently stated, the Internet is a source of

additional income. Television and film sales to the Internet have to

date not cannibalized viewers from broadcast and cable. Furthermore,

the economics of digital distribution are even more favorable than the

economics of DVDs. Digital has no hard media costs, no boxes, no

marginal extra shipping and handling. The only substantial economic

issue for Internet reuse is the residual payment to directors, actors,

and writers. Our position is simple and fair: when our work generates

revenue for the Companies, we deserve to be paid.

Now, to jurisdiction: First, we must establish once and for all that

writing for new media is covered by our MBA. With increased viewers and

ad dollars on the Internet, we must secure our future. The Internet,

cellular phones and other new distribution technology are simply

channels for viewing the content we create. Again, our position is

simple and fair: when we create valuable content for the Companies, we

deserve to be paid.

Second, the number of non-WGA covered reality and animated

television programs and non-WGA covered animated feature films has

grown significantly over the past several years, and the percentage of

work in television and film covered by our MBA has declined. I don't

need to tell you that if this trend continues, there will be fewer work

opportunities for our members in the future and a general decline in

conditions and standards for writers in the entertainment industry.

Even though the vast majority of animation writers and reality story

producers have made clear their desire to be represented by the WGA,

the Companies have so far refused to do the right thing. We believe it

is long past time for the talent that creates some of the most

successful shows on television and some of the most popular and

profitable feature films to be recognized and treated fairly. Again,

our position is straightforward: when writers create programs of great

value for the Companies, whether scripted or unscripted, live-action or

animation, they must have the right to be represented by the WGA and

covered by our MBA.

As you will see from the information in this bulletin, the Companies

can certainly afford to sit down with us at the bargaining table and

treat writers like valued strategic partners. Instead, the public

statements and histrionics of their AMPTP representatives seem to

indicate that they won't deal straight with us without a fight. From

their point of view, I suppose this tactic makes sense. Our Guild has

not had to battle for issues this important for a long time, and

management might hope we've lost the collective will to demand what we

deserve.

They are wrong. Screen and television writers are united behind

important issues to a greater degree than at any time since I joined

the Guild in 1989. This unity has been on display during our

negotiating committee meetings, the overwhelming yes-vote for the

Pattern of Demands, and our recent organizing victories at Comedy

Central. I am encouraged by the clear focus and pragmatic discussions

as we and our sister Guilds explore new ways of working together. We

all understand how important this moment is for our futures. The future

of residual income and the jurisdiction of our union are at stake here.

These issues are worth fighting for.