After something of a war of words, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) have resumed negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. This agreement will cover writers for film, TV and digital productions.
Residuals for series and feature-length productions made for streaming services are expected to be among the most critical issues under negotiation. The Directors Guild was able to reach agreement with the studios including an increase of up to 50% on residuals for such shows. The DGA is traditionally the first of the above-the-line guilds to complete its three-year deal with the studios. Most of the time, the DGA terms serve as a benchmark in negotiations for the WGA and for SAG-AFTRA, the performers union, both of whose agreements also expire in the same year. COVID-19 has disrupted business as usual, however, and that precedent may not apply this year.
The parties will also be discussing another issue, unique to the pandemic. The WGA asked the AMPTP to agree to extend the period during which union members could earn the threshold amount to qualify for health coverage, since many were out of work. It appeared for a moment that this might derail negotiations entirely. When AMPTP President Carol Lombardini responded to the WGA’s request that she would need to take it back to the AMPTP member studios, chief WGA negotiator David Young fired back with an email saying, “You people are despicable.”
Fortunately for labor peace, both sides have expressed a willingness to address the extension as part of the overall contract negotiations. Lombardini has asked the WGA to tell her how many writers have actually been affected by shutdowns due to the pandemic. Many writers are working in remote writers rooms, while pilot development and screenwriting has always been solitary work well suited to sheltering in place.
The current expiration date of the WGA Agreement is June 30. An objective observer might say that this is not an opportune moment for either writers or studios to want a writers strike. Before the lockdown, there was widespread speculation that a strike was coming; less so now. I will not predict but I can hope.