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Writers Guild and AMPTP Finally Begin Contract Talks Under Lockdown

Negotiations begin two months after COVID-19 pandemic postponed in-person meetings

Nearly two months after it was postponed by COVID-19 lockdowns, negotiations have finally begun on a new contract between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on a new master contract.

Both sides spoke on Monday prior to entering a media blackout period. The AMPTP said in a statement that its goal “is to reach a fair and reasonable agreement with writers that will provide much-needed stability as the industry recovers from the devastating impact of COVID-19.”

“More importantly, we want to enable those who have suffered the most from the effects of the virus to return to work without the threat of further interruption to their livelihoods,” the statement added.

The WGA released a video from the guild’s negotiating committee to its members saying that it would send emails over the next two weeks outlining major points on its agenda. Among the issues the guild says will be discussed during the talks are “streaming compensation and residuals, benefit contributions, inclusion and equity, workplace protections including against sexual harassment, and specific screenwriter, comedy-variety and TV writer issues.”

Also expected to be discussed during negotiations are possible changes to the WGA health plan, an issue that nearly derailed contract talks after a tense email exchange between AMPTP President Carol Lombardini and WGA lead negotiator David A. Young. The WGA had asked for changes to the earnings requirements to qualify for the health plan to help members who lost jobs to the COVID-19 pandemic. When Lombardini said that she would need to consult with the AMPTP’s member studios, Young called the organization “despicable” in a terse reply.

After speaking with member studios, Lombardini told the WGA that the AMPTP wants to identify how many writers have had their job status affected by the pandemic, saying that many writers have been able to continue their work via remote writing rooms and that other guilds for production positions like SAG-AFTRA have asked for shorter health plan extensions than what the WGA has requested. Lombardini offered to discuss possible eligibility extensions during contract talks.

These talks also come as the AMPTP continues negotiations with SAG-AFTRA, which began on April 27 and are being held via teleconferencing to allow for social distancing. The existing contracts with both guilds expire on June 30.

A new contract was already agreed to prior to the pandemic between the AMPTP and the Directors Guild of America, but it is still not clear how much that contract will serve as the usual benchmark for these current talks as the economic downturn caused by the pandemic has greatly changed the financial outlook for both Hollywood’s studios and its workers. Regardless, discussions surrounding residuals for movies and TV shows made for streaming services is still expected to be the most critical talking point for both guilds. The DGA negotiated a 50% increase in streaming residuals for its members on TV shows and films with budgets of at least $13 million that are made for a service with more than 20 million subscribers in the U.S.