Thursday, January 24, 2008

Someone Please Hit the WGA Upside the Head!

I promise, I won’t turn this blog into a running commentary on the Hollywood writers strike. There are many more articulate people running off at the keyboard on this already (Robert Elisberg, Michael Zeitzman, Nikki Finke), and there are so many other interesting things to write about concerning writers. But—what are they thinking at the WGA?

This from the heads of the WGA branches (East & West) in a joint Letter From the Presidents – State of the Negotiations, dated 1/22/08:

In order to make absolutely clear our commitment to bringing a speedy conclusion to negotiations, we have decided to withdraw our proposals on reality and animation.

Meaning, the union is going to buckle on its former commitment to unionize reality TV and animation writers. Originally, on day six of the initial negotiations with the AMPTP the WGA had “played hardball” by demanding that network and studio CEOs make no deals with Reality TV producers unless these producers signed up as signatories of the WGA; the idea being to bring the writers of these shows under the wing of the union and to cover them with the same salary and benefit protections of other guild members (these folks can work 90 hour weeks!).

This backtrack by the WGA is a little like the UAW going into heated negotiations with Ford and saying, "Okay, we'll come back to the table, and to show good faith we'll agree not to unionize any other auto workers in the country for the length of our new agreement." Can you imagine the leadership of the UAW doing that? Not unless they wanted to end up like Jimmy Hoffa (okay, he was in a different union
—but still)!

Pulling back on this demand may be good politics, especially considering all the pressure coming to bear on both sides of the negotiations to settle, but is it really in the interests of writers (and the Guild) to cut loose reality and animation writers? I imagine the thought process of the Guild leadership is that in three years (the length of any new contract), when they return to the table with the AMPTP to start this dance all over again, the Guild will put this issue back on the table and everything will be hunky-dory. The problem is, that probably won’t happen. Many years ago video residuals were withdrawn from the negotiations, to be revisited later, and guess what—25 years later—it never happened. That’s how it works. It will be very hard to “revisit” the reality/animation issue in three years, and even if that happens, I’ll bet Gil Cate’s paycheck for producing the Oscars that the deal won’t be anywhere as sweet as the one the Guild could get if they just pushed through now to make it happen this round.

Now, I’m not some red diaper baby from the 1920s singing the Internationale (though I have sung the Internationale—many times) calling for world revolution (though I have called for world revolution—many times, but that’s another blog), screw the bosses, and up with the proletarian revolution (yes, you guessed it—been there done that too). I actually do understand that the function of negotiation implies give-and-take, concessions, etc., but the opportunities here for making historic gains for writers, strengthening the union movement in the U.S. (which is in wretched shape), and setting the tone for future negotiations are huge. Let’s not blow it!

Don’t abandon the reality writers, don’t cut loose the animators; find a common ground where common ground can be found, and where the ground opens up into an chasm and, rather than talk, both sides just want to throw each other into the abyss, step back, take a deep breath, make a concession to throw all the lawyers into the abyss instead of each other, and then get back to the table and figure it out. After all, we’re all in this together.


Caroline said...

All of the writers strike, which I support, gets more and more confusing to me. I don't understand why they can make deals with some companies and not with others, why Colbert can write his own material and be okay, but he can't have writers do the material. All I want is for it to be over.


Jeff Lyons said...

Hi C,

It's really nuts... I'm with you on that one.

MerryM said...

It would seem that the WGA thought it might be too much to expect the the studios/networks to cave on the animation & reality writers as they AMPTP has been so resistant to even the digital media issues. And as the corporations have such deep pockets AND making a mint on reality TV, it was probably a prudent move to drop that demand. If the WGA can make a decent deal on new media, they might be able to persuade reality & animation writers to organize under their banner.

Jeff Lyons said...


I see your point, and I'm sure you're right. It just seems like the union is going to really get 1 shot at the jurisdiction issue for several years to come and predicting three years out who will or won't or might come under the WGA banner is iffy. They probably will, but I'm not so sure there wasn't some middle ground on jurisdiction for animation/reality that could be found without throwing the baby out with the bath water.

But... thanx so much for your point... I think it's a good one.
J :)

merrym said...

Hi Jeff,
That would seem to be logical but...working here in "enemy territory" it is completely amazing to me how hostile and vituperative execs are to the WGA. They afford it little respect, unlike the DGA, which is considered a "well-run" union. Then again, writers generally don't get no respect in this town. When I hear people say they're not more important than the grips or other crew members, I have to wonder. Do these people actually understand what writers are to the creative process? I wonder.

Jeff Lyons said...


Boy, do we agree on that. The hostility is way over the top. This is a corporate culture issue, I believe, and a huge problem with the entertainment industry: i.e., lack of respect. I completely agree with you.

On the surface, I think execs will fess up to understanding the role of writers, but no... I don't think they get it. Once again, a culture problem. This myopia is endemic to studio operations. I think it's in the manual, "Give lip service only to importance of writers."

Boy... do I have stories!

Anyway... I agree with you.