WGA Bulletin: ‘We Must Improve Our Current Contract’

From basic cable to new media, guild brass uses org-wide memo to outline progressive agenda for upcoming negotiations, in contrast to the “moderate” tone of other entertainment unions

Don't look for the Writers Guild of America to pull its punches as it gets ready to renegotiate its new major film and TV deal with Hollywood producers.

With the guild's current major contract — negotiated in 2008 after a three-month strike — set to expire May 1, guild president John Wells (pictured) and executive director David Young issued a bulletin to members Monday, outlining a still-progressive stance on issues ranging from basic-cable to new-media compensation.

Unlike other labor organizations' — including the Screen Actor's Guild's — more moderate stances, which have in part been driven by fear of work stoppages, the WGA clearly is not anxious to preserve the status quo.

Especially when it comes to figuring out deals over new technologies.

"In the 1980s when basic cable was developing, we negotiated with the companies for minimum compensation rates that reflected a new, as yet untested market," Wells and Young wrote. "But the companies … refuse to raise compensation rates when a market clearly matures."

Illustrating their point, the duo noted that while aggregate basic-cable revenues have spiked 9 percent annually over the last four years to $42.9 billion in 2009 — far exceeding revenue from broadcast networks — script fees have not kept up.

While the average writer's rate for a 30-minute broadcast show is $22,900, cable compensation averages only around $12,857, they noted.

Wells and Young also pointed out the need to improve the guild's contract provisions regarding new media.

For example, the fixed residual rate on TV series presented online haven't kept up with an overall average increase in advertiser CPMs, they contend.

"We need to increase the ad-supported streaming residuals to bring them in line with the current online marketplace," the duo wrote.

Further evidence that the WGA isn't cowed by its recent work stoppage: John Bowman, who led the guild during the previous round of contentious bargaining, will be back at the negotiating table.