Talent Agents Respond to WGA Lawsuit: ‘Predetermined Path to Chaos’

“The ATA’s repeated use of anti-union rhetoric illustrates how much in denial the big agencies are,” WGA says in response

WGA ATA labor dispute

The Association of Talent Agents responded to the Writers Guild of America’s newly filed lawsuit against the top four talent agencies in Hollywood on Wednesday, warning that the guild was sending the entertainment industry on a “predetermined path to chaos” and declared it was proof that the guild never had “any intention to negotiate.”

The WGA, on Wednesday morning, filed a civil lawsuit against the top four talent agencies in Hollywood, including UTA, CAA, WME and ICM Partners. The lawsuit says that packaging fees violate California fiduciary law by “severing the relationship between writers’ compensation and what the agency receives in fees.”

“This development is ironic given that the Guild itself has agreed to the legitimacy of packaging for more than 43 years,” said ATA Executive Director Karen Stuart in a statement Wednesday. “Even more ironic is the fact that the statute the WGA is suing under prevents abuses of power and authority by labor union leaders, even as the Guild has intimidated its own members and repeatedly misled them about their lack of good  faith in the negotiating room.”

“Knowing that it could take months or even years for this litigation to be resolved, WGA leaders are unnecessarily forcing their members and our industry into long-term uncertainty. While the legal process runs its course, we strongly believe that in the interim it remains in the best interests of writers to be represented by licensed talent agencies.”

The statement continued, “We empathize with our writer clients and the untenable position they have been put in by WGA leadership. We stand ready and willing to represent writers with the added protections outlined in the Agency Standards for Client Representation that further ensures choice and greater transparency for writers.”

In a counter-statement, WGA said: “This matter is very simple.  If the major agencies would abide by existing law – antitrust and racketeering law – this deal would have been done 11 months ago.  The ATA’s repeated use of anti-union rhetoric illustrates how much in denial the big agencies are.”

In addition to the WGA, the new lawsuit named eight writers as plaintiffs, including “The Wire” creator David Simon, “Madam Secretary” creator Barbara Hall and “Cold Case” creator Meredith Stiehm, who also serves as the co-chair of the negotiating committee for the WGAW and sits on the guild’s board.

“All of the writer plaintiffs have been hurt financially by packaging deals. They are creators and writers of television shows that have shaped a generation, yet their agents have profited at the expense of their own clients,” WGAW general counsel Tony Segall said in a statement on Wednesday. “The plaintiffs will seek a judicial declaration that packaging fees are unlawful and an injunction prohibiting talent agencies from entering into future packaging deals. The suit will also seek damages and repayment of illegal profits on behalf of writers who have been harmed by these unlawful practices in the past.”

Patti Carr (“Reign”), Ashley Gable (“The Mentalist”), Deric Hughes (“Arrow”), Chip Johannessen (“Homeland”) and Deirdre Mangan (“iZombie”) are also named as plaintiffs.

The lawsuit comes as thousands of prominent film and TV writers have fired their agents and committed their support for the WGA and the new code of conduct that members approved by an overwhelming majority. The code explicitly forbids agents representing its writer members to collect packaging fees — a condition that none of the major talent agencies so far has agreed to honor.

According to the WGA, the four major agencies receive more than 80% of the packaging fees paid by Hollywood studios and networks.

“Packaging fees are not a new practice in Hollywood, but they have always been controversial,” Segall said. “It is time to put an end to the egregious conflict of interest that they pose.”