WGA-Agency Conflict Spills Into Guild’s Demands for Upcoming Studio Talks

List of demands sent for approval to WGA members includes requirement that studios only negotiate with agencies approved by the Guild

Last Updated: January 29, 2020 @ 1:53 PM

The Writers Guild of America is making plans to bring their upcoming talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) into their ongoing conflict with Hollywood agencies and packaging fees, as they plan to require that studios only negotiate with agencies that have reached an agreement with the Guild.

The requirement was included as part of a list of demands sent out by WGA West President David A. Goodman and WGA East President Beau Willimon to members for approval for mutual bargaining agreement negotiations in a few months. Other demands included on the list were an expansion of the types of streaming shows and movies subject to minimum pay, increase of that minimum pay, increase of contribution to the Guild’s health and pension funds, and stronger anti-discrimination protections to promote diverse hiring and pay equity.

“Your approval of a Pattern of Demands is the constitutionally-required first step of the bargaining process,” read the memo. “While the Pattern does not detail specific proposals that will be made during negotiations, it is designed to inform the memberships of our two Guilds of the general objectives we will pursue.”

But the agency agreement requirement is connected to the recent surge in deals made between the Guild and mid-sized, full-service talent agencies. In the past two weeks, Gersh, APA and Innovative Artists have all signed agreements pledging to phase out packaging fees — payments from a studio to an agency in exchange for packaging talent for a project, which       the Guild calls a “conflict of interest” — by July 2021.

While the memo from the WGA does not directly mention packaging fees or the conflict over them, getting an agreement from studios to only work with studios that have agreed to eliminate them would put immense pressure on top agencies like CAA, UTA, and WME, all of whom have flatly refused to eliminate packaging fees and are now preparing for legal battles against the Guild in a pair of dueling lawsuits.

The Guild is hoping to get a federal court to rule that packaging fees are a violation of federal labor laws, while the three top agencies argue that the WGA is participating in an “illegal boycott” by having thousands of its members terminate their representation in opposition to packaging fees. Charges of such a boycott were the reason why AMPTP President Carol Lombardini declined the WGA’s request to reopen the current bargaining agreement last March to add a clause that would forbid AMPTP-affiliated studios from doing business with any agency that didn’t sign a new agreement with the Guild.

“The companies have concluded that agreeing to your proposal would require them to participate in a group boycott of talent agencies that do not meet with guild approval,” Lombardini wrote in a letter to the WGA last spring. “We believe that doing so would subject them, the WGA and individual writers to a substantial risk of liability for antitrust violations, including claims for treble damages. The Companies would also be at risk for violation of federal labor laws as well as state laws.”

The upcoming talks between the AMPTP and WGA — as well as other Hollywood guilds — come as several studios are searching for new movies, TV shows, and other content for new streaming services like HBO Max, Peacock, and Disney+. The deals made in the new bargaining agreements will go a long way in determining how actors, directors, writers, and other crew members are compensated for their work on these new programs.

WGA members have until February 7 to vote on approval of the Pattern of Demands, which you can read in full below.

2020 MBA PATTERN OF DEMANDS

COMPENSATION AND RESIDUALS
• Increase minimum compensation in all areas.
• Expand made-for new media programs subject to MBA minimums.
• Address issues for writing teams.
• Address inequities in compensation.
• Enhance protections against uncompensated work.
• Improve residuals for reuse markets.

PENSION PLAN AND HEALTH FUND
• Increase contributions to the Pension Plan and Health Fund.

PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS AND EMPLOYMENT PROTECTIONS
• Strengthen protections for screenwriters.
• Strengthen protections for comedy-variety writers.
• Strengthen protections for writers employed and compensated on per episode basis.
• Provide for paid family leave for writers.
• Enact anti-discrimination measures, including the prevention of harassment and promotion of pay equity.
• Require signatory companies to negotiate only with agents franchised by the WGA.
• Modify and expand all arbitrator lists.

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