“Thousands” of members of the Writers Guild of America have signed the form letters informing their agencies that they could no longer represent them, WGA West president David A. Goodman said in a letter to members Monday night.
The total number of signatories was not stated, but the letter comes just three days after the 43-year-old agreement between WGA and the Association of Talent Agents expired without a new deal in place, putting a tough new code of conduct for talent agents, intended to end the practice of packaging, into effect.
The form letters are still being collected, and will be delivered en masse to the agencies “later this week,” Goodman said. The ATA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TheWrap.
Packaging was the main point of contention preventing WGA and ATA from hammering out a new agreement. WGA says packaging is a conflict of interest for agents and that it has caused a decline in writer earnings. The guild is demanding agencies end packaging outright, and on March 31, WGA members overwhelmingly voted to approve the new code of conduct.
ATA has steadfastly defended packaging, contending that writers earn more money because of it; WGA disputes that assertion.
In his statement to members Monday, Goodman addressed member criticism of the form letters, which the guild has made mandatory for members.
“Some members have reached out to me and other members of the negotiating committee asking why these letters are necessary at all,” Goodman wrote. “Other members feel that the letters are inconsistent with what we first mentioned in our outreach meetings about the agency campaign – that no writer would have to individually fire their agent.”
Goodman said that the guild has determined that having each member individually fire their agents by signing the letter, rather than having WGA fire agents on their behalf, best protected members from any “future potential commission dispute.” Goodman also described this as “an overt statement of strength” against agencies. Goodman also said that having each member sign the letters, followed by WGA delivering them all at once, was a more effective form of collective action.
Read the whole letter below:
Over the weekend, it’s been remarkable to see members taking to social media to share their support for the WGA as we rolled out the Agency Code of Conduct. The hashtag #IStandWithTheWGA started trending nationwide. Many members shared screenshots of their signed letters to their agencies, along with their eagerness to resume working with their agents once a deal could be reached that puts clients over conflicts.
Thousands of members signed their letters in the first hours after the code was put in place, and the number keeps growing. As we said in the initial email, we’re gathering all the letters and will deliver them to each agency later this week. Some members have reached out to me and other members of the negotiating committee asking why these letters are necessary at all. Since the Guild has implemented the Code of Conduct, isn’t that enough? Other members feel that the letters are inconsistent with what we first mentioned in our outreach meetings about the agency campaign – that no writer would have to individually fire their agent. So I want to talk for a moment about why we ultimately decided the letters were necessary.
Many things about this negotiation have required us to keep updating our strategy and tactics. We have never had to take an action like this with our agencies, and the last time this agreement was negotiated was 43 years ago. We determined that the best legal protection for writers against a future potential commission dispute was to have each individual terminate their agreement. Then your elected board and negotiation committee came to the conclusion a few weeks ago that it made the most sense in this situation, as a matter of political solidarity, for us to find a way to collectively state our position to the agencies. In a strike, our position is clear when we respect the picket line; in this situation we need an overt statement of strength, given agency efforts to question our 95.3% vote, and this is what we decided.
Had we instructed members to individually email their agents, that felt like it violated the spirit of what we’d promised. It put members in the awkward spot of firing their agents one by one. That was the motivation behind doing the form letter. By delivering all the signed letters together, it allows us to do what unions are designed to do: take a collective action on behalf of all members.
That’s why we’re doing it this way. We did not communicate this clearly, and for that I apologize. I want every member to feel that they understand why the Guild does what it does, that we listen when they have concerns, and that we correct our mistakes. I’m constantly impressed by the members of this Guild.
Finally, let’s talk about why the e-signed letter is mandatory rather than optional.
When the Guild takes action, we do so as a group. While we encourage members to communicate directly with their agents, we don’t ask an individual member to take a stand. We do it together. In addition to protecting you as an individual, the e-signed letters protect us all from any agency claim that our 95.3% vote wasn’t real – that people voted one way and acted another. They are already suggesting that. What this action does is show each individual writer that they are not doing this alone. The instructions for filling out the letter can be found here.
This is our power, and it is at this moment that we need to show it.
David A. Goodman