The Writers Guild of America has turned down an offer from Abrams Artists Agency to drop packaging fees, ending a chance at a possible thaw in the impasse between the writers and Hollywood agencies.
In April, WGA implemented a new code of conduct for agents designed to end practices it says are conflicts of interest: Packaging, where agencies bundle talent and projects together and bring them to studio as a package, for which the agency collects a fee; and affiliate production, in which a studio partly owned by the agency is involved in a packaged project. When the code of conduct went into effect, writers were required to fire any agent or agency who refused to comply.
Since then, talks between the WGA and the Association of Talent Agents (ATA) have failed to bring any progress. But in its proposal, made public Monday night, Abrams broke ranks with other ATA-affiliated talent agencies by offering to end its involvement in package deals and affiliate productions. To date, only one ATA agency, Pantheon Talent, has signed the WGA’s code of conduct. Abrams would have been one of the largest agencies to date to reach an agreement with the WGA since the walkout.
However, Abrams said it would not formally sign the WGA code of conduct, citing objections over sharing of information, among other complaints. Instead, Abrams wanted the WGA to agree to an amended version of the 1976 artists’ manager basic agreement (AMBA), which the WGA terminated in April to push for the new code of conduct. The proposed new version would have an additional page of amendments that would include the elimination of packaging fees.
Abrams’ refusal to sign the code may have contributed to WGA’s decision. In a letter provided to TheWrap, WGA executive director David Young said that 73 other agencies — all of whom except Pantheon are not ATA-affiliated — have already signed on to the code.
“…under the favored nations terms of our agreements with the 73, if I go backward and make a deal with you that has lesser terms than the deals we’ve made with the signed agencies, the WGA will have to give your deal to all 73! You can see that we’d never do that,” Young wrote.
“We’re in a three-month struggle to get a deal that supersedes the 1976 AMBA, not one that uses it as a benchmark,” he added.
In a written response to Young, provided to TheWrap, Abrams chairman Adam Bold said he is “disappointed, sad, and perplexed” by WGA’s decision.
“I expected that we would have a common goal, which was to put people back to work in the interim while the litigation is going on, but instead it seems that the WGA has other priorities. I don’t have the desire nor the resources or energy to spend trying to engage in negotiations on the sort of agreement that a union makes with the trade association,” Bold wrote.
“I’m not a labor negotiator. I’m not pretending to try and solve the bigger issue. Instead, I thought that I had a reasonable and fair workaround for our clients and staff to earn a living until they work out those bigger issues. We simply took the agreement that had been in place for 42 years and made an addendum removing the most contentious and egregious issues.”
In recent weeks, UTA, WME and most recently CAA have filed lawsuits accusing the guild of violating antitrust laws. In its lawsuit, filed Monday, CAA said that the guild boycott is not ordinary labor union activity and “vastly” exceeds any exemption from the antitrust laws that the WGA may have for its ordinary activities as a labor union.
For its part, the guild on Friday sent a cease and desist letter to ATA, accusing the organization and its member agencies of engaging in “collusive actions” and “anticompetitive behavior.”
Read David Young’s full letter below:
I appreciate your effort but I hope you understand that we cannot agree to what you are proposing.
There are many reasons, but a fundamental one is that we’ve now negotiated a whole, new AMBA with many terms that are better than the old agreement. We opened the contract after 43 years because writers don’t like it . We cannot make an interim deal that takes us back where we were in 1976.
Another thing I want you to know is that we’ve currently signed 73 agencies to the new agreement; there are 27 remaining AMBA signatories with whom we have not reached a new deal, including Abrams. Under the favored nations terms of our agreements with the 73, if I go backward and make a deal with you that has lesser terms than the deals we’ve made with the signed agencies, the WGA will have to give your deal to all 73! You can see that we’d never do that.
We’re in a three month struggle to get a deal that supersedes the 1976 AMBA, not one that uses it as a benchmark. The agreement that I sent to you incorporates many changes from the original Code of Conduct of a few months ago, the result of negotiating discussions over the months with both the ATA and many individual agencies that have already signed.
If you want to get on the phone to discuss this, let me know. Best-