Minimum Basic Agreement: an Overview

Every three years, the Writers Guilds of America, East and West, negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the entertainment industry’s official collective bargaining representative. The contract covers screen, television, and new media writers.

Among the most important benefits of belonging to the Writers Guild are the rights and protections provided by the Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA). This agreement affects writers’ salaries, benefits, pensions, working conditions, residual payments, and creative rights. Without a Guild contract, each writer is on his or her own to plead for residuals, prompt payment, and credits. With a Guild contract, all of this is worked out in advance so that you, the writer, receive your fair share of compensation and recognition for your work. The Guild steps in to assist you if your employer does not live up to the contract.

When preparing for MBA negotiations, the Guild consults with members covered by the MBA for their input. This ensures that the contract addresses the issues that are most important to members.

The contract currently in place is the Writers Guild of America-Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers Theatrical and Television Minimum Basic Agreement. The 2014 MBA will be effective May 2, 2014 through May 1, 2017.

The MBA covers compensation, fringe benefits (pension plan and health fund), working conditions, residual payments, use of your literary material, and the enforcement of contract provisions.

How much you get paid for your work is the core of any union contract. But even this simple concept is complicated in practice in our industry, and therefore the contract is complicated.

The Schedule of Minimums is a companion piece to the MBA. In its original form it is a pamphlet of about 30 pages which summarizes the rates contained in Article 13 of the MBA.

Visit the Ratebook for more details.

As in any contract, the MBA outlines procedures to adjust situations in which the participating parties (that’s you and them, whichever you and they are) may not see things in precisely, exactly, the same way. These provisions specify the types of disputes which can be grieved and arbitrated.

Some examples of matters which the Guild has grieved and/or taken to arbitration include:

  • failure to pay agreed-upon compensation for writing services (or delay in payment)
  • failure to pay domestic or foreign residuals (or delay in payment)
  • disputes about the number of drafts submitted for which payment is due
  • violation by company of speculative writing provisions of the MBA
  • whether notice of termination of daytime serial writers was timely
  • whether travel arrangements comply with applicable MBA provisions.

The responsibility for determining writing credits is one of the most far-reaching services the Guild performs for its members. The rules are spelled out in the Guild’s Screen Credits Manual and Television Credits Manual, and have been the subject of exhaustive study by Guild committees in the past several years. Please visit our Credits Survival Guide to learn more.

The MBA provides for a pension plan and a health insurance fund, maintained by employer contributions and governed by employer and employee representatives (“Trustees”). There are annual eligibility requirements both for vesting in the pension and for health coverage.

See Plan Your Retirement and Get Healthcare for details.

One of the benefits due credited writers under the Writers Guild Minimum Basic Agreement is compensation for the reuse of their material. This compensation is called residuals.

The Residuals Survival Guide provides writers with a basic knowledge of residual compensation—what it is, who receives it, and when it is due.

The MBA establishes programs to increase job opportunities for minorities, women, the disabled, and writers over age 40.

The MBA contains provisions that preserve writers’ creative rights. Click here to download a summary of these preserved rights that have been collectively bargained and are enforceable.

A long-standing concern of increasing importance to writers of original material is the extent to which they and the production companies employing them may exploit their literary material in different media, including but not limited to: the stage (dramatic rights); publication including novelizations; merchandising; and sequels and/or series.

To learn more, please visit Understanding Separated Rights.