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Writers Guild Offers to Begin Contract Talks With AMPTP in May

WGA’s existing contract with studios will also be extended to June 30

The Writers Guild of America has agreed in a letter to the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to extend the expiration date of their existing contract to June 30 and has offered to begin negotiations on a new contract in May.

The letter, sent by WGA West Executive Director David Young to AMPTP President Carol Lombardini, suggested the two sides exchange proposals by May 1 with negotiations scheduled to begin via teleconferencing during the week of May 11.

“This will give both sides a week to analyze the opening proposals, while still leaving almost eight weeks in which to conduct negotiations,” Young wrote.

The talks are now set to begin nearly two months after the original start date of March 23. Like all other Hollywood businesses, the talks were delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, which made it impossible to hold the lengthy negotiation meetings in person because of social distancing directives.

In response to the pandemic, the WGA has called on its health fund to extend eligibility through the end of the year to members on the guild’s health plan who no longer can meet the earnings requirements to stay on the plan because they lost potential writing jobs to production shutdowns. The pandemic was noted repeatedly in Young’s letter, including in explaining the guild’s delayed response to AMPTP.

“You’ve expressed frustration that it has taken until now to provide you with a response to the AMPTP’s proposed contract extension and dates for commencing negotiations.  But I hardly need to remind you the COVID-19 pandemic poses unprecedented challenges to the conduct of meaningful, and we hope successful, negotiations,” Young wrote.

“The effect of the crisis is particularly disruptive for the Guild, which represents the interests of 15,000 writers located throughout the country, with whom we regularly must communicate about bargaining objectives and developments,” he added.

The AMPTP has already negotiated a new contract with the Directors Guild of America, which ratified it last month. The new contract includes a substantial increase in residuals for streaming TV series, a topic that is expected to be a major element of talks with the WGA and SAG-AFTRA. But the pandemic and its accompanying economic downturn have changed the situation for the WGA’s negotiating committee, as Hollywood’s shutdown is expected to make it difficult for the guild to call a strike. The WGA promised when the contract talks were first postponed that it would not seek a strike authorization after the contract’s initial May 1 expiration date.