Strike, Deal or Delay: WGA Talks Enter Critical Phase Ahead of May 1 Deadline

Talks between the Writers Guild of America and the AMPTP are expected to resume in earnest this week, with just two weeks left before the May 1 deadline to get a deal.

The WGA leadership spent the last week meeting with members to encourage them to vote yes on a strike authorization. The deadline for members to vote is noon on Monday, and the membership is expected to deliver a resounding vote of support, likely in the high 90% range.

In communications to members, guild captains urged members to deliver a “very high yes vote turnout” to maximize negotiators’ leverage. They also argued that the studios have been unwilling to budge on the guild’s main issues.

“Simply put, we delivered our very reasonable proposals to ensure writing can be a sustainable career, and the companies said no,” said one captain in an email. “We literally asked the companies for a livable life, and they looked across the table and said no. It’s horrible.”

Seeking to allay some writers’ concerns about going on strike, the guild has argued that a higher “yes” percentage would make a strike less likely. The thinking is that if the authorization passes with a lower percentage — closer to 90% — that could be interpreted as weakness, which would embolden the studios to take a harder line, and thus force the guild to make good on the strike threat.

The AMPTP, which represents the major studios, issued a statement on Monday saying that the strike vote “has always been part of the WGA’s plan, announced before the parties even exchanged proposals.”

“Its inevitable ratification should come as no surprise to anyone,” the studio group said. “Our goal is, and continues to be, to reach a fair and reasonable agreement. An agreement is only possible if the Guild is committed to turning its focus to serious bargaining by engaging in full discussions of the issues with the Companies and searching for reasonable compromises.”

The AMPTP delivered a response on Friday to the guild’s proposals. But the two sides still remain far apart, with relatively little progress made since bargaining began on March 20.

The guild is seeking a major rewrite in the way members are compensated. In TV, the leadership has delivered a set of interlocking proposals intended to increase the overall share of production budgets that go to the writing staff.

The proposals include establishing a staffing minimum — the first ever attempt to define the parameters of a “writers room” in the WGA contract. Though the details of the studios’ response are not known, there has been no indication that they are open to that.

With only two weeks left to negotiate, the concern is not just the distance between the two sides, but also the large number of complex issues in play.

The WGA is also seeking sizable increases in minimums — perhaps as much as 7% per year — as well as a major overhaul in the way streaming residuals are calculated, an expansion of “span protection” for writers making more than $400,000 a year, protections on options and exclusivity, and a regulation on artificial intelligence, among other issues.

It remains possible that an 11th-hour deal will be reached. In 2017, a strike authorization passed with 96.3% support. A strike was averted just after midnight as the contract expired.

It’s also possible that talks could be extended, especially if it appears that progress is being made. In 2001, the two sides continued to talk for a few days after the contract expiration date, ultimately reaching a deal on May 4.

A delay could stretch longer than that. In 2004, talks went on for a full month beyond the expiration date before breaking down. The WGA then worked without a contract for another four months before reaching a deal — which many found disappointing — in October.

In 2007, negotiators worked up until the Oct. 31 contract deadline, when the talks broke down. A federal mediator called for a last-minute negotiating session on Nov. 4, but that failed to produce an agreement, and the strike began on Nov. 5. The strike lasted 100 days.

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