Statement of Guild Leadership in Support of Strike Authorization

You are undoubtedly aware that our current 2017 MBA negotiations are underway. Our bargaining agenda is a direct response to communications with thousands of writers in three online writer surveys, show visits, and meetings with thousands of members. It is rooted in two unassailable facts.

First, that these have been very profitable years for the companies. This past year alone they earned $51 billion in operating profits, a record. In fact, companies’ profits have doubled in the last decade.

Second, that the economic position of writers has declined sharply. Screenwriters have been struggling for a long time. They are now joined by television writers, for whom short seasons are at the core of the problem. In the last two years alone, the average salary of TV writer-producers fell by 23%. Those declines have not been offset by compensation in other areas. In basic cable and new media, our script fees and residual formulas continue to trail far behind those in broadcast – even though these new platforms are every bit as profitable as the old model.

We would be remiss if we did not try to address the profound structural problems identified by so many members.

What have we asked for?

We have put forward a group of proposals designed to reverse the decline of writers’ incomes during this period of unprecedented company profits:

  • We asked for 3% increases in minimums – and increases in the residual formula for High Budget SVOD programs consistent with industry standards.
  • We asked for essential contribution increases to our health and pension plans.
  • We made a comprehensive proposal to deal with the pernicious effects of short seasons. This included a limit on the amortization of episodic fees to two weeks, a standard that had been accepted in the business for decades. It included, as well, serious constraints on unpaid options and exclusivity. And it sought to address the MBA’s outdated schedule of weekly minimums, which no longer adequately compensates writers for short terms of work.
  • We asked for script fees for staff writers and script fee parity across platforms for everyone.
  • We asked for modest gains for screenwriters, in particular a guaranteed second-step for writers earning below a certain compensation level.
  • We asked to increase opportunities for women and writers of color.
  • We asked for a rational policy on family leave.
  • We sought to address chronically low pay for comedy-variety writers.

How did they respond?

The companies responded “no,” in virtually every case. Nothing for screenwriters. Nothing for staff writers. Their proposal to address short seasons does nothing to remedy the problem for most writer-producers and could make the current situation even worse for others. On family leave they simply pledged to obey all applicable state and federal laws – as if breaking the law were ever an option. Although the companies have made small moves in a couple of areas, each of those concessions has been accompanied by a commensurate, or in some cases more severe, rollback.

The biggest of these rollbacks has been in the critical area of the Guild’s Heath Fund. There, the companies have demanded that we make immediate benefit cuts – $10 million in the first year alone. In return, they will allow us to fund the plan with money diverted from our own salaries. Going forward, they have demanded a truly draconian measure in which any future shortfalls to the plan would be made up by automatic cuts in benefits – and never by increases in employer contributions.

Where does that leave us?

This hard bargaining by the companies strikes a familiar theme. Despite the unprecedented profits being reaped by our employers, profits based on our work, the writers’ piece of the pie must never be allowed to grow. The reality is, for most writers today it is rapidly shrinking.

This is why the Negotiating Committee and elected leadership have taken the serious and considered step of asking you to authorize a strike. Because the issues are so pressing and broadly felt, we are asking that you empower your negotiators with the tools needed to make the best deal possible. This means voting to authorize the WGA West Board of Directors and the WGA East Council to call a strike in the event that a fair and reasonable contract cannot be negotiated with the networks and studios. This is a step that unions regularly take, and that we have taken in the past, particularly in negotiations where fundamental issues regarding our future are on the table.

Does a yes vote on the strike authorization mean there will be a strike?

No. The MBA does not expire until May 1 and we will continue to do everything in our power to avoid a work stoppage. A yes vote means that you are giving the elected leadership – the WGAW Board and WGAE Council, in consultation with the Negotiating Committee – the authority to call a strike at the right strategic moment if it becomes necessary. We assure you we will exercise this responsibility with the utmost prudence and restraint.

The members of the Negotiating Committee, WGAW Board and WGAE Council voted unanimously to seek strike authorization at this time. Our names appear below. We are asking you to join us, acting with the same unity and seriousness of purpose in granting this request.

Now is the time to bring the collective power of the 9,000 member strong Writers Guild of America to bear. Please vote yes.

2017 WGA MBA NEGOTIATING COMMITTEE

Chip Johannessen, Co-Chair
Chris Keyser, Co-Chair
Billy Ray, Co-Chair

Alfredo Barrios, Jr.
Amy Berg
Adam Brooks
Patti Carr
Zoanne Clack
Marjorie David
Kate Erickson
Jonathan Fernandez
Travon Free
Howard Michael Gould
Susannah Grant
Erich Hoeber
Richard Keith
Warren Leight
Damon Lindelof
Glen Mazzara
Alison McDonald
Jonathan Nolan
Zak Penn
Luvh Rakhe
Shawn Ryan
Stephen Schiff
David Shore
Meredith Stiehm
Patric M. Verrone
Eric Wallace
Beau Willimon
Nicole Yorkin

WGAE COUNCIL

Michael Winship, President
Jeremy Pikser, Vice President
Bob Schneider, Secretary-Treasurer
John Auerbach
Henry Bean
Kyle Bradstreet
Sue Brown
Andrea Ciannavei
Lisa Takeuchi Cullen
Bonnie Datt
A.M. Homes
David Keller
Susan Kim
Christopher Kyle
Gail Lee
Kathy McGee
Matt Nelko
Phil Pilato
Theresa Rebeck
Bill Scheft
Courtney Simon
Beau Willimon

WGAW BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Howard A. Rodman, President
David A. Goodman, Vice President
Aaron Mendelsohn, Secretary-Treasurer
Mara Brock Akil
Andrea Berloff
Zoanne Clack
Marjorie David
Carleton Eastlake
Courtney Ellinger
Jonathan Fernandez
Chip Johannessen
Glen Mazzara
Zak Penn
Luvh Rakhe
Billy Ray
Ari B. Rubin
Meredith Stiehm
Patric M. Verrone
Matthew Weiner