Since its formation, the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) has fought to improve the lives of professional writers.
Like other unions, WGAE and its sister guild, Writers Guild of America West (WGAW), bargain with employers for contracts that protect writers, improve pay and benefits, and ensure creative rights. As our union prepares to renegotiate our contract, it is important for members to be informed, engaged and involved in the process that decides the future for thousands of writers.
Every three years, the Guild negotiates with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) over the terms of the Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA), the collective bargaining agreement that covers most of the work done by WGA writers. Though each negotiation cycle is different, certain aspects of the process carry over from year to year.
This FAQ gives WGA members a general overview of the negotiations process and what to expect in 2020.
1. What are the steps in the negotiations process?
The Guild’s research, enforcement, and negotiating staff work continually to analyze industry trends and craft strategies to improve standards for writers. Preparations for MBA negotiations intensifies in the months prior to the contract expiration date, May 1, 2020. In general, the steps in the negotiations process are as follows:
- The WGAE Council and WGAW Board appoint the 17-member Negotiating Committee. The officers from each guild and a number of alternates also participate in committee discussions.
- WGA members are surveyed to help determine bargaining priorities.
- The Negotiating Committee, with staff support, crafts the Pattern of Demands—general objectives for negotiations. The Pattern of the Demands is approved by the Board and Council and presented to the membership for a vote.
- The Negotiating Committee decides on a set of bargaining proposals and negotiating priorities.
- The WGA holds a series of membership meetings to get feedback on the bargaining agenda. The Negotiating Committee and Chief Negotiator begin talks with the AMPTP. Given the sensitive nature of these conversations, communications with the membership may be limited at times.
- If it appears an agreement can’t be reached, the Negotiating Committee may recommend to the WGAE Council and WGAW Board that the membership takes a Strike Authorization Vote (SAV). If the Board and Council agree with the Committee, they will authorize a membership vote. Additional membership meetings will take place in connection with the vote. If a majority of members vote in favor, the elected leadership—the WGAE Council and WGAW Board, in consultation with the Negotiating Committee—have the authority to call a strike at the right strategic moment, if it becomes necessary.
- Once the WGA and AMPTP come to an agreement on terms, the WGAE Council and WGAW Board decide whether to recommend the tentative agreement and send it to the membership for a contract ratification vote.
2. Who does the Guild negotiate with?
The majority of companies signed on to the MBA are represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The AMPTP negotiates on behalf of hundreds of production companies with seven different unions that represent workers in the motion picture and television industry.
3. Who represents the Guild at the negotiation table?
The 2020 MBA Negotiating Committee and chief negotiator represent the WGA in negotiations.
Members of the Negotiating Committee:
|Michele Mulroney, Co-Chair
Shawn Ryan, Co-Chair
Betsy Thomas, Co-Chair
Ashley Nicole Black
Dante W. Harper
Melissa London Hilfers
Lauren Ashley Smith
Patric M. Verrone
Beau Willimon, Ex-Officio
Kathy McGee, Ex-Officio
Bob Schneider, Ex-Officio
David A. Goodman, Ex-Officio
Marjorie David, Ex-Officio
WGAW Executive Director David Young serves as chief negotiator.
WGAE Executive Director Lowell Peterson serves as a negotiator.
4. What happens in negotiations?
Negotiations start with opening proposals from both sides. The AMPTP may propose rollbacks, changes or new proposals that are not favorable to Guild members. The back-and-forth of the negotiations covers topics large and small in a series of sessions that play out over a number of weeks. The Negotiating Committee spends a great deal of time in caucuses away from the bargaining table, some spent deliberating about next moves, and others waiting for the AMPTP to be ready to resume a new session. Both sides may amend their proposals, offer counter proposals and compromise until a deal is reached.
5. What happens if we go on strike?
The WGA leadership may call a strike only after the membership has authorized it and the current contract has expired. If a strike is called, members are prohibited from performing covered writing services for companies that don’t have an agreement with the WGA. To demonstrate our unity and resolve, writers picket and engage in other actions that put pressure on the AMPTP to better their offer. Negotiations can continue during a strike.
A strike can give us the leverage needed to secure meaningful economic gains for writers. It can also be financially challenging for members. In the event of a strike, a strike fund committee will oversee the Guild’s program of loans to members facing hardships. For members working up until a strike, many states offer unemployment insurance benefits. In New York, the waiting period for these benefits for strikers has recently been reduced to two weeks.
6. How can I stay informed during negotiations?
During negotiations, the parties sometimes agree to a “media blackout,”’ in which both sides agree not to discuss specifics about how negotiations are proceeding with the media. Since member messages leak to the press, the Guild may pause member communications at times. Members will always be notified, however, when there are significant developments.
To stay better informed, we encourage you to join a member team with a Guild captain. Your captain can help address your questions and concerns and let you know about opportunities to engage with fellow Guild members. You can join a team by emailing Geoff Betts. When you reach out, please let us know if you primarily work in television or screen so we can place you on a team that is right for you.
Want to get more involved in support of the Guild’s bargaining agenda? You can volunteer to be a Captain by emailing Geoff Betts. Captains represent a team of writers by communicating members’ questions and concerns to Guild leadership and staff and helping to mobilize members in support of the campaign.
7. How can I make suggestions or express my concerns to the Negotiating Committee?
Input from Guild members is always welcome. Please attend membership meetings, if possible, to hear directly from the Negotiating Committee, have the opportunity to give feedback, and hear what other members are thinking. Outside of meetings, you can direct comments and questions about negotiations to Geoff Betts.
8. What kinds of tactics might we expect from the companies?
Misleading and provocative information may appear in the press or on social media. You might hear attacks on the Guild and its leadership. These tactics are often used to scare, confuse and weaken member solidarity.
Take rumors and unsubstantiated claims with a grain of salt. Make sure to consider the source and motivations of comments about WGA goals, strategies, tactics and priorities. It is wise to avoid talking about negotiations with company representatives during negotiations. Though you may have close creative and social relationships with studio executives, be aware of information gathering that could take the form of friendly, seemingly well-intentioned conversations.