Strike News Roundup

by Paul William Tenny

There's just about 35 hours left until the Writers Guild of America's contract with the Ass. of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) expires and things aren't looking very good right now. WGA is holding the line in their demands to double DVD residual payments such that they (writers not the guild itself) get $0.08 for every DVD sold instead of about the four or five cents they currently get. The studios adamantly refuse, claiming they can't afford it.

What a joke.
And as if that weren't ridiculous enough, AMPTP is now sending threatening letters directly to writers in a pathetic attempt to intimidate them into violating the guild's strike rules meant to monitor and prevent people from crossing the picket lines (virtually) by writing during the strike. This stinks of desperation, doesn't it? The only possible reason for the studios and networks to have any interest in this one rule is because they intend to pressure writers into working during the strike, there is no other possible cause for these threats because that's the only possible outcome.

But it gets even worse, where the producers are now resorting to character smears to gain favor with the three, maybe four people in the media that actually believe they aren't completely full of shit.

The producers want to villify WGA negotiating committee topper Dave Young because he doesn't have an entertainment background and prior to joining the WGA in 2004 was in the garment and construction industries. "He's never negotiated a big contract like this," an AMPTP source claims. I also keep hearing over and over from the producers how Young is responsible for the current hardline position taken by the writers. Certainly, he has helped focus the WGA's anger and resentment with tactics that have alarmed the studios and networks.

I've heard similar criticisms of Young from guild members that thought his non-existent experience made him an extremely poor choice for chief negotiator, yet at this point I'm not sure what kind of difference it would make no matter who was sitting in that chair. The proposals and stonewalling put on by the studios and networks has been nothing less than insane - I dare say they want a strike far more than any writer does. Compare the two initial proposals for a moment:

Writers want:
  • Digital media residuals at least as good as pay-TV, better if possible.
  • DVD residuals doubled from about $0.04 per DVD to $0.08.
  • Jurisdiction over digital media (Internet)
Studios and networks want:
  • All residuals held until the film/TV show in question shows a profit on paper (no TV show or movie ever has.)
  • No jurisdiction over digital media.
  • Pension fund cuts.
  • Health care fund cuts.
To be clear, the studios first issue would be equivalent to the writers first issue being "DVD residuals raised from $0.04 per DVD to $5.00" - clearly it was never meant to be taken seriously, yet was not taken off the table for nearly three months. WGA claims and I believe they are spot on that no serious negotiations could even begin until AMPTP started acting seriously.

So ask yourself, if you sat down at a table with your boss and his proposal was to tie your salary to the companies profitability when that company has never shown a profit on any single project while grossing over $4.3 billion in a single summer while all you want is a couple of extra bucks to pay for lunch, what would you do? Who really wants you to walk out and form a picket line in that situation, you or your boss?


In about the only bit of good news coming out of Hollywood labor the past few months, the writers are finally getting some real support that is more than just a rosey letter like the one sent by SAG expressing their support - it was a nice gesture and very much welcomed by the way - but this is more than just a pat on the back. Teamsters are lining up to walk the picket lines with writers and unlike a writers strike which won't have any significant impact on the studios and networks about for another two or two-and-a-half months, the teamsters will be telling the studios to start driving their own trucks for a while.

The "Hollywood Teamsters" -- aka the Motion Picture and Theatrical Trade Teamsters (Teamsters Local 399) which reps over 4,800 studio drivers, casting directors and location managers -- today urged members to honor the WGA's picket lines. I'm told this follows a meeting they held on Sunday morning where Secretary-Treasurer Leo T, Reed, who has held the key leadership slot at the local since 1988, reminded them that Teamsters don't cross picket lines. This will have an immediate impact on many film and television shoots once a strike starts "by creating more problems and headaches for production," a Teamsters official told me this afternoon.

Really the biggest downer right now is how disturbingly anti-Union the Directors Guild of America is. They are acting with great hostility towards WGA and seem downright desperate to sign a new deal with the studios (one that screws writers, actors, and directors too) a full six months before their old one even expires. I am constantly amazed at how weak willed and utterly pathetic the DGA is.

Why anyone even bothers becoming a member of such a toothless pro-studio/network organization is beyond me. Those cowards don't seem like they have the balls to discipline their own members for infractions, much less fight to get them new better deals every three years.

I was shooting on the backlot at Paramount today, and I heard that the studio is reassigning all trucks and deliveries to go off-lot, in case of a picket line. Could be rumor, could be true. Seems like smart planning to me…particularly if the companies are taking the Teamster announcement seriously, which they pretty much have to.

The strategic upshot?

This just might help avert a strike.
in Labor


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