Walkouts: AMPTP 2, WGA 0

by Paul William Tenny

Here's a fun fact; the number of walkouts by each side since the strike began on November 5th:

WGA:   0
So which side was it again, that was hell bound for a strike? Can't be the side that worked five days past the end of its contract only to have management walk out on those talks. Can't be the side that wanted to negotiate through the holidays after management started threatening ultimatums just before walking out a second time.
On Friday, everybody seemed to think that management was planning a walkout sometime in the next few days. That is to say they had already given up on this set of talks and were simply stringing writers along with some plan to gain maximum sympathy, or more likely maximum drama. It didn't work.

I feel somewhat vindicated now, as I said back when these new talks were scheduled that it seemed like management was only playing along in order to get the showrunners back to work, to finish production on whatever scripts they had left. Like obedient dogs, they all marched back to work and management bolted from the table right around the time all of that work had been completed.

With the fall season scrapped, there's no incentive for management not to strike an undercutters deal with DGA. So the question now is, will they or won't they?

Post-apocalyptic spin - Ultimatums are how you end negotiations and prolong an impasse, it isn't how you end one. The AMPTP understands this better than anyone which is how you know the end of this round of talks was not wrought of frustration, but a calculated and poorly executed plot by management to get out of bargaining when all they want to do is dictate terms of surrender.

"We told them we'd negotiate new media 24/7, every day through the holidays, at 3 a.m. on a Saturday. ... But we told them, the strike could last for 10 years, and you're never going to get reality. You're never going to get animation."

Everybody knew that going in, and the only reason they haven't been dropped yet is because management refuses to drop anything in return. This is actually a step backwards from the final hour talks in the first week of November. Reports were that if the WGA dropped its demand for DVDs, management would move forward on new media. The WGA did their part, and the immediate result was management walking out of the room and going home.

Nobody seemed to think a demand for reality jurisdiction was ever going to happen (and a lot of people were unhappy at dropping DVDs), which make it nothing more than something to be traded away for something the other side really didn't want or knew it couldn't get. The sticking points are new media residuals and not a lot else, which would make that statement above seem logical, except for the fact the writers already took something far more important off the table and were rewarded with a walkout - the first of two.

Second, that specific threat is an empty one. If the WGA remained on strike for 10 years, there wouldn't be an AMPTP to bargain with because the networks and studios would have long since been forced to make a deal by their corporate parents that aren't keen on losing $36 billion dollars (what they'd have lost in a 10-year period) over what amounts to a demand for $50 million per year in new residuals.

Saving that, they'd simply go out of business with no product to sell. It's purely rhetoric.

It also shows how unwilling the AMPTP is to bargain over those issues. The best thing and probably the only thing they can possibly do to make reality and animation go away is trade something for them, which they know, and so far haven't been willing to do. So I ask again, who really forced this strike to begin with, and who is prolonging it?

Moments later, AMPTP VP Carol Lombardini delivered remarks detailing how the talks could no longer continue without removal of the six WGA demands. WGA reps were stunned at how hardline the stance was, and got angry when they saw the AMPTP statement on its website a short time later -- giving them the impression that last week's talks had been only for show. The fact that the AMPTP recently hired crisis PR experts Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane reinforced WGA's anger and conviction that the studios have been prepping for war, rather than negotiations, for the past two weeks.

This is something I don't understand and I wish someone would explain to me. Wouldn't "crisis experts" help end the impasse, not make it worse? Because really if you look at the AMPTP's actions during this second round of talks, their behavior has been counter productive and far worse than at any time before. I'm always reading praise for how the DGA negotiates professional and productively and it's usually coming from the AMPTP, but absolutely nothing about the AMPTP's behavior this year has been productive or professional.

Fighting over chairs, lying in ways that can and have been refuted, spewing rhetoric instead of hunkering down, walking away from the table twice in six weeks,  rebuking perfectly reasonable demands while concentrating on items that had already been conceded before the first walkout and only brought back onto the table afterwards, etc.

The WGA has gotten a bad rap (again, mostly from the AMPTP) for these negotiations but reality is the AMPTP has handled this so poorly that it'll be a miracle if a deal is struck before Nick Counter is fired. And at this point, yeah, I think what really needs to happen is the AMPTP needs a new negotiator. Counter has been doing this for decades and isn't used to losing on anything. Somebody like that is going to keep the fight going simply to protect themselves, regardless of what anybody else wants out of this.

What that side needs is somebody who isn't dragging a legacy behind them, because this guild leadership isn't going cave like all the others have. Counters strategy of holding his breath isn't going to work this time.

"Quite frankly, we're puzzled and disheartened by an ongoing WGA negotiating strategy that seems designed to delay or derail talks rather than facilitate an end to this strike," the AMPTP said. "Union negotiators in our industry have successfully concluded 306 major agreements with the AMPTP since its inception in 1982. The WGA organizers sitting across the table from us have never concluded even one industry accord."

Couple of things here - if Young and Verrone made the kind of "deal" the AMPTP is telling them to take, they'd never make another union deal in this country again. Virtually every management proposal has had rollbacks in it that would cost writers money. By my account, these two guys are fighting off demands that few other unions have to deal with these days. Based on the actions and behavior of the AMPTP, I'd say these two union newbs are actually doing a pretty darn good job against a group of billion dollar multi-national conglomerates bent on union busting.

In addition to that, attacking their (non)existent history negotiating union contracts is really a bit of a logical fallacy. What you've done in the past may reflect on what you do in the future, true, but when you've done nothing in the past, it can't possibly reflect negatively on what you're doing right now. What you've got in that pointless statement is the AMPTP talking about irrelevant issues because they can't talk about the negotiations without having to go on defense.

Young and Verrone may be new at this, but so far, they aren't the ones who have walked away from the table twice in five weeks. And that begs the question, just what kind of "negotiating strategy" is saying you'll do something at the 11th hour only to walk away once the other side complies? Is that their idea of a non-puzzling strategy that isn't meant to derail talks?

Give me a break.

It's that kind of obvious dishonesty that is destroying the trust between the two groups. I hate to make the comparison, but right now the AMPTP is making George Bush look like an honest guy.

"While the WGA's organizers can clearly stage rallies, concerts and mock exorcisms, we have serious concerns about whether they're capable of reaching reasonable compromises that are in the best interests of our entire industry. It is now absolutely clear that the WGA's organizers are determined to advance their own political ideologies and personal agendas at the expense of working writers and every other working person who depends on our industry for their livelihoods."

That's some world-class rhetoric when you consider what the WGA is actually asking for. And once again, rather than addressing actual proposals on their merrits, what I see is the AMPTP personally attacking the WGA and their leadership. Ad hominem, anybody?

The only thing the WGA is demanding that they are not willing to walk away from is a fair deal on new media, which means when management gets paid, they get paid. Whether it be streaming video or downloads, the principle remains the same.

Management gets paid, writers get paid.
in Labor


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