Friday, December 21, 2007

Strike Day 47

Here's what the other side had to say today:

Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers

December 21, 2007


The strike called by the WGA is fast approaching the two-month mark, and already tens of thousands of workers who have no stake in this dispute are either out of work or facing grim prospects in the New Year.

Well, actually, those tens of thousands of workers DO have a stake in this dispute, since all those who belong to IATSE and/or the TEAMSTERS will see the exact same thing happen to their HEALTH PLANS as us writers will see happen to our RESIDUAL INCOME, since the two things -- WGA members residuals and various BTL union employees HEALTH & WELFARE FUNDING -- are TIED TOGETHER AT THE HIP.

If the AMPTP succeeds in forcing us writers to accept a deal that doesn't include real profit participation from use of our material on the internet, then our current income from traditional TV residuals will continue to WITHER AND DIE -- and the exact same thing will happen to the funding for Below The Line employees own health insurance and welfare funds.

The WGA's organizers are indeed making good on their promise that they would wreak “havoc” on our industry. As a result, the traditionally festive holiday season for our business has instead been shrouded by uncertainty and concern for the future.

In the midst of the hourly drumbeat of news about the WGA’s strike, it is important that we all take a step back and review exactly how our industry reached the situation we now face on the eve of the holidays.

First, it is important to remember that the WGA called the strike and asked writers to walk out on November 5th.

Wait a second -- when did you say the WGA called the strike...? Oh, I see -- NOVEMBER 5th -- five days AFTER our contract ran out. Five days BEYOND the "deadline" mark. Doesn't that show we were actually trying -- in fact, trying very, very hard -- to make a deal?

They had the right to do so, but no right to avoid responsibility for the consequences.

Fair enough. We at the WGA are responsible. But, seeing as how you guys -- the AMPTP -- are without question far more powerful than the WGA or any other individual union involved in the film and TV industry could ever be... aren't you -- at the bare minimum -- at least equally to blame? If two sides sit down to settle an argument and the argument doesn't get settled... who do you blame? The side that got up and walked out -- or the side left behind in their seats? Which side is behaving in a more mature, responsible manner? The side that threw up its hands and stormed off, calling the other guys crazy... or the side that stayed there -- even if they are crazy (which we are not)? What about all the crazy stuff the AMPTP brought to the table when the negotiations first got going -- like how the WGA should trash the residual system that has been its bread and butter for more than 40 years and replace it with "producer's adjusted gross"?!?!?!

I find it difficult to believe you can maintain any intellectual integrity when viewing this situation and assess the AMPTP with less than half of the responsibility for making it come to pass.

The simple combination of how very much power they wield and the exact circumstances under which they walked away from the bargaining table, not once but TWICE, make that very clear indeed -- at least to me.

Second, the negotiations between the AMPTP and the WGA are at an impasse because the WGA has continued to press a series of unreasonable demands that have nothing to do with new media and the real concerns of most working writers. These WGA-constructed roadblocks to progress include:

Reality Television
The WGA seeks to obtain blanket jurisdiction over reality programs through its top-down organizing tactics, and thereby deprive these employees of their free choice to elect union coverage under the voting system administered by the National Labor Relations Board. The AMPTP has asked the WGA to withdraw this demand.

The WGA seeks to obtain, once again by top-down organizing tactics, jurisdiction over animation writers who traditionally fall under IATSE's jurisdiction, and to deprive those writers of their free choice to elect union coverage under the voting system administered by the National Labor Relations Board. The AMPTP has asked the WGA to withdraw this demand.

Sympathy Strikes
The WGA seeks the right to go on strike, at any time, in support of another labor organization's strike, and thereby disrupt production whenever they want. Any agreement reached must assure uninterrupted labor peace during the term of the agreement.

In short, our report to you on the State of the Strike is really very simple: The WGA’s insistence on these jurisdictional and other unrealistic demands is preventing us from reaching a deal that is fair and reasonable to both sides.

Uh, pardon me, AMPTP but isn't what's preventing us from reaching ANY DEAL -- be it fair or unfair, reasonable or unreasonable to either or both sides -- the simple fact that one side, namely the AMPTP, refuses to sit down and discuss all these issues they care so much about keeping out of our next contract?

Anyone notice the little oversight the AMPTP made by not including one of the other things on that LIST of theirs -- maybe they didn't check it twice the first time and upon further reflection have decided to leave it off.

I refer to the PROFIT PARTICIPATION IN NEW MEDIA issue, which was also on that laundry list of theirs -- the list that they say includes all the stuff that is keeping us all from coming to grips WITH the issue of "New Media"! Yeah, that was on the same list. I kid you not. Go to their website and check -- unless maybe they removed it in the interim.

Hmmm. Since the real point of all this "OPEN LETTER" stuff -- in my humble opinion -- is to appeal to people like me, WGA members who didn't particularly want to go out on strike and who wish there had never been a strike and who make up what the AMPTP keeps referring to as "working writers," my guess is they feel that putting that part back in might crimp their style, so to speak.

And nothing in the WGA’s new grab-bag of tactics – a hodgepodge of continued street demonstrations, baseless NLRB complaints, and ephemeral interim agreements with individual companies – is going to change this situation. Until those in charge at the WGA decide to focus on the core financial issues that working writers care most about, instead of the unreasonable jurisdictional demands that only people who run unions care about, we do not see that there is any basis for reaching an agreement.

Actually, the people who really care about those "jurisdictional demands" are the ones who might end up, if all their dreams came true, becoming WGA members. Because, as someone who has written a non-union ANIMATED FEATURE FILM and seen all the hard-won financial and creative rights which my partner and I always took for granted when we wrote movies and TV shows for live actors DISAPPEAR because we were operating in a non-union arena, I can tell you from personal experience: there are no non-union animated feature writers who don't want their work to be covered by the WGA. After all, what exactly are the down-sides? Let me see... based on what you were being paid to write the movie, the company would have to calculate and pay its otherwise-standard contribution to your HEALTH FUND and PENSION FUND. Wow, that would really suck, huh? Let's see, what else would change when the WGA forced themselves in...? Oh, yeah -- your RESIDUALS would be covered and enforced. Hmmm. Very interesting indeed. And I saved the best for last: PROTECTION OF YOUR CREATIVE RIGHTS. You know, like when you write a movie and then the company hires 4 or 5 other guys to rewrite it and then the final credit determination has to be confirmed by a purely objective, otherwise disinterested body of your peers -- your fellow WGA members on an arbitration panel, instead of the company executives who might possibly have other agendas than giving credit(s) based upon an objective judgement of relative creative contributions.

I understand the AMPTP doesn't want the WGA to extend its jurisdiction -- that makes perfect sense, since if the WGA succeeds in extending its jurisdiction it would end up costing the companies that make up the AMPTP more money to do the same business which they do for less money right now.

Fair enough. The AMPTP may very well win on this one the same way they have won on it in most previous contract negotiations -- but hey, AMPTP: please don't tell me you're doing it in order to protect the poor folks who would otherwise be subjected to membership in the Writers Guild. The people I know who work in those positions -- and I know more than a few of them -- would probably give up toes and/or pinkies in order to join the Writers Guild and gain all the benefits membership brings with it.

The one big down-side? They send you the arguably-pretentious magazine, "WRITTEN BY." But it is not true that they send union goons to your home and force you to read it cover to cover -- at least not in my personal experience.

As we all reflect on this situation over the holiday week, we can all hold hope that when the New Year dawns so too will the realization by the WGA that the best interests of working writers are not served by allowing extraneous demands to block progress on fundamental, bread-and-butter issues that are surely at the heart of working writers’ concerns.


I voted against Patrick Verone and his "Writers United" slate.

Nonetheless, I will NEVER BE SWAYED by your ongoing efforts to reach out and touch we, the "working writers."

Know why?


Sure, maybe some people in the Guild are hell-bent on organizing Reality TV and the world of Animation. Maybe some of you guys really believed in wiping away our entire TV residual system and replacing it with the bullshit three-card monte game you use to hide the real profits from the movies we write. You know, the ones like "Forest Gump" that have yet to make a dime on the official studio books, due to all those persistent costs of doing business, the ones we will never be able to quite understand. Maybe some of you really did believe in that proposal. Well, when you sent that one our way WE DIDN'T WALK AWAY. We set our jaws, ground our teeth, swallowed our bile and GOT ON WITH ATTEMPTING TO ACHIEVE OUR GOAL: a reasonably fair piece of the internet pie.

Right now, based upon the actions of the AMPTP, I would say that their goal -- the one which all their actions have arguably, reasonably served -- is to prevent us from doing so.

The AMPTP -- masters of industry that they legitimately are -- have determined that keeping all of those internet-generated profits of the future for themselves is worth riding out a slightly rough patch for a while. Fair enough. It is their prerogative.

The problem with their approach, as I see it, is that this rough patch will not end until they give on that issue.

This strike will not end until the companies make an offer that translates the $20,000.00 writers get when an hour they wrote is re-run on TV into a reasonable sum for similar use on the internet and something similar for movies that are streamed or downloaded. So far what they offered was literally not a red cent for movies and $250.00 for a year's worth of reruns on the internet. Twenty-grand into two-hundred and fifty smackers.

Hmmm. Let me think... as a working writer, should I bring pressure to bear on the WGA leadership so that I can go back to work under a new deal which addresses my "CORE FINANCIAL," "BREAD AND BUTTER" issues by promising me a whopping two-hundred-and-fifty smackers for a year's worth of reruns over the internet?

Why, at that rate, it would take me just... 80 years to earn the equivalent of one year's worth of residuals under the system we have in place now.

Sorry, AMPTP. I'm afraid you haven't quite convinced me you have my best interests closer to your heart than all those "crazy radicals" down at WGA headquarters.

Of course, I'm just one man. Maybe some of my fellow "working writers" in the WGA will start bringing pressure to bear on our leadership if you kick it up a notch and offer us five-hundred bucks for a year's worth of internet re-runs.

Hey, anything's possible.

But I wouldn't hold my breath.

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