The Writers Guild of America (WGA) sent a memo Monday afternoon thanking its members for its hard-fought victory in its campaign to eliminate packaging fees in Hollywood, a struggle that lasted over 1,000 days and led thousands of writers to terminate their agency representation for as long as 21 months.
“We said then, and maintain today, that this was a simple and un-revolutionary idea: that our agents are our fiduciaries, and that every dollar they make should be generated as a percentage of the dollars we make,” the WGA said in the memo.
The campaign came to an end this past Friday when William Morris Endeavor (WME) agreed to sign a franchise agreement with WGA that included terms on selling off its share in affiliate production studio Endeavor Content to under 20% and to phase out packaging fees by June 30, 2022. WGA first announced back in April 2018 that it sought to renegotiate its agreement with the Association of Talent Agencies (ATA). It argued that packaging fees are a conflict of interest because they encourage agents to prioritize deals that increase revenue for the agency rather than keep their interests aligned with the writers they represent.
Also Read: Writers Guild Reaches Deal With WME to Eliminate Packaging Fees in Hollywood
A year later, 95% of members gave guild leadership approval to enforce Working Rule 23, requiring all WGA members to terminate their representation with any agency that does not sign a franchise agreement that phases out packaging fees. Over the next 21 months, the WGA would sign agreements with dozens of talent agencies, starting with boutique agencies and expanding to mid-size agencies like APA, Verve and Gersh.
But it wasn’t until this past summer, when the pandemic left writers as the only major contributor to Hollywood’s entertainment industry still working, that UTA, CAA and WME agreed to sign the franchise agreement. With those deals in place, the WGA says it has accomplished its goals.
“First, the practice of agencies collecting packaging fees in lieu of commissions will cease to exist at the conclusion of the sunset period. Second, agencies and their equity investors will be limited to no more than a 20% combined stake in any production or distribution entity. Finally, the agencies will become real partners with the Guild, sharing information that will allow the WGA to both better enforce MBA provisions, such as late pay and free work – and to aggregate more comprehensive overscale compensation data – for the benefit of all writers,” the guild wrote.
While the majority of WGA members showed solidarity during the campaign, not everyone was on board. Some writers voiced their criticism of guild leadership and concerns that some writers, particularly newcomers, would struggle to find jobs in writer rooms without agent representation. These included showrunners like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy, who signed a letter in July 2019 urging the guild to reach a settlement with the agencies and throwing their support behind Phyllis Nagy, who would go on to run an unsuccessful campaign against guild president David A. Goodman.
But despite this, WGA said in its memo that its success wouldn’t have come without all of its members, regardless of their stance on the campaign.
“Throughout a campaign that was far longer than anyone anticipated, you sometimes questioned, as members should, but your commitment never faltered. You proved that though we may not be unbreakable, we are unbroken. And it should be noted that this battle came with real costs. Some of us said goodbye to agents who had been our career-long partners and friends, others found work harder to come by, or worked not at all,” the guild wrote.
“As is always the case, Guild-wide actions take a greater toll on some of us than others. And yet, still, almost without exception, you looked to what was best for each other and not just yourselves. You showed through your sacrifice what it means to be a member of a union.”
Read the full letter below:
Nearly three years ago, on April 7th, 2018, the WGA sent a notice to all of its signatory agencies indicating its intention to renegotiate the agency agreement that had been in place since 1976. The objective of that renegotiation and the campaign that followed was to end conflicted agency practices and to align agencies’ interests with those of their writer clients. We said then, and maintain today, that this was a simple and un-revolutionary idea: that our agents are our fiduciaries, and that every dollar they make should be generated as a percentage of the dollars we make.
Though the idea may have been simple, the battle to turn it into a reality was not. In March of 2019, 95.3% of our members voted to impose an Agency Code of Conduct. A month later, 7000-plus writers terminated their representation with all unfranchised agencies. For the twenty-two months following – and bolstered by the remarkable solidarity of the membership – the WGA negotiated a franchise agreement with essentially every agency in Hollywood including, finally, the big four: UTA, ICM, CAA and now, WME.
With the signing of WME on February 5, 2021, the agency campaign has come to a close. In the end, it accomplished all three of the substantive goals set out at the start: First, the practice of agencies collecting packaging fees in lieu of commissions will cease to exist at the conclusion of the sunset period. Second, agencies and their equity investors will be limited to no more than a 20% combined stake in any production or distribution entity. Finally, the agencies will become real partners with the Guild, sharing information that will allow the WGA to both better enforce MBA provisions, such as late pay and free work – and to aggregate more comprehensive overscale compensation data – for the benefit of all writers.
All of this was done through the will and determination of the membership of the WGA. It was done without the substantive support of anyone else in the business. As we so often have, writers stood alone – but we also stood together. The three years were not without their internal debate and dissention. We are, after all, a fiercely democratic and outspoken group – and unanimity was never a possibility. But we were, for the most part, respectful, both of each other and of the right of the majority to determine the course of our Guild. Through it all, we managed to hold two elections and to negotiate an MBA – and we are now finding our way through a global pandemic.
What we achieved is clear on its face: the realignment of our agents’ interests so that they are now our true fiduciaries once again. What we learned in the process was less predictable at the start. Many of us discovered the pain – but also the power – of taking responsibility for the business side of our careers. All of us were reminded of a thing we sometimes forget, which is that, though we often need help in managing those careers, our value as writers is intrinsic in ourselves and does not flow from those who represent us. We learned that the community of writers is, in itself, a vital thing, permitting us to support each other by giving advice, lending an ear, reading a script, or providing introductions. We are the network and the network is powerful. We and the actors, directors and producers with whom we work, learned the value of talking directly with each other and not solely through intermediaries. And we were forced to face, once again, all the ways in which the system is designed – or in practice works – to benefit some of us over others, without regard to talent. We have been compelled to refocus our efforts in making sure that the Guild is an active force against the marginalization of any writer. All of these things – all of them good – will outlive the end of the agency campaign itself.
What we achieved is owed to the work of many people. First of all there is David Young, our chief negotiator, and all those who have dedicated their careers to the service of writers – the unparalleled staff of the Guilds, West and East, who, with patience, vision and persistence, led us step-by-step through this campaign, while simultaneously carrying all the other burdens of the Guilds on their shoulders. An immeasurable debt is owed to all the Guild Captains, without whom no Guild-wide effort could ever succeed. We owe deep gratitude to the member plaintiffs who stepped up to put their names on the lawsuits, and to the attorneys who, in representing the WGA in court, were instrumental in adding to our leverage. Thanks, too, to all those individual members who gave countless hours organizing events large and small, creating support groups and building the online tools that allowed writers to connect and find work during the months of the campaign.
Finally – and most of all – the success of this effort is owing to the fortitude, bravery, stubbornness, resilience and faith of the Guild membership as a whole – to you. Throughout a campaign that was far longer than anyone anticipated, you sometimes questioned, as members should, but your commitment never faltered. You proved that though we may not be unbreakable, we are unbroken. And it should be noted that this battle came with real costs. Some of us said goodbye to agents who had been our career-long partners and friends, others found work harder to come by, or worked not at all. As is always the case, Guild-wide actions take a greater toll on some of us than others. And yet, still, almost without exception, you looked to what was best for each other and not just yourselves. You showed through your sacrifice what it means to be a member of a union.
What we did – together – these last three years, we did purely out of economic necessity. In a time of unprecedented growth in our industry and unprecedented profits for our employers, we have watched, year after year, as writers’ overall standard of living stagnated and declined. Even as the Guild successfully defended and improved minimums, our above-scale income, which is the responsibility of our agents, went unprotected. In response, we took on the agencies, not because they are our antagonists, but because they are our allies. And as the industry moves toward radical consolidation by the global streaming giants – what is certain is that we need allies – but true, unconflicted allies – more than ever before. This, to benefit all writers, at every level, but most particularly to protect our rank-and-file members. Their financial futures – their hopes for making a career out of doing what they love – depends on the Guild and the agencies working side-by-side.
The negotiations of the agency campaign are over. The battle to win, for all writers, our fair share of the wealth we create will never end. And no one should doubt our resolve or our stamina in that fight. It is, after all, our day job to create, out of nothing, whole worlds. We believe in the power of ideas and of words, properly chosen, to make things better. Small wonder, then, that it is within the power of our imaginations to believe we might make the industry in which we work better as well. We have been called radical in response. Those words are meant to shame us and to tame us. But they do not work. There is nothing radical in defending the true value of our work against those who would take it for their own.
We leave this agency campaign, as two united Guilds, stronger than when we started – not reckless, but also not afraid to use our power. We look ahead to the future, determined to hold the agencies accountable for the promises they have made, and then – with the agencies at our side – to prepare for the 2023 MBA negotiations and the challenges to come.
WGA-Agency Negotiating Committee, WGAW Board, WGAE Council
WGA-Agency Negotiating Committee