Welcome back. I hope your Christmas was merry, etc. etc., okay, formalities over.
Back to our favorite topic.
Lots has happened since I last posted. Still, the only thing that really qualified as motion per se was the announcement of an interim deal with Worldwide Pants, the Letterman-owned company that produces his show.
When the news was announced, everyone agreed that……ha. Yeah. Right.
In one corner, we had the swirls-for-eyes gang predicting that this was the end of the mighty AMPTP! Now that one blow had been struck, it was only a matter of time before we peeled off Warner Brothers!
And then, over at Nikki Finke’s site, she reported (breathlessly, natch) that some A-list screenwriters were so offended by a deal that seemed to elevate some writers over others, they were considering going fi-core.
May I suggest that neither perspective is representative of either the membership at large or reality?
The deal with Letterman isn’t revolutionary in either a good or bad way. In fact, it’s not even the first time it’s happened. During the 1988 strike, the WGA made interim deals not only with Letterman, but with Johnny Carson, the producers of the Cosby Show…a total of 64 companies.
Those deals didn’t destroy the union, nor did they end the strike, nor did they break the AMPTP, nor did they seem to impact the nature of the final deal at all.
Personally, I think this latest move to strike an interim deal was a reasonable one to make. Late night hosts are all returning. Letterman is the only one in a business position to even be able to make a deal, and doing that deal is at least a way to get some writers back to work without really giving anything away to CBS, which was going to be getting the show back anyway.
This is why I thought it was odd that the WGA rejected Letterman’s initial offer to make a deal, and why I thought it continued to be odd when David Young said as recently as a few weeks ago that the WGA would still refrain from making such a deal.
While it’s never a great thing to tell a large assembly of WGA members one thing and then do another, I do think leadership changed their minds in the right direction at the very least.
Three things are troubling me, though.
First, the L.A. Times reported that the deal we made with Letterman is specifically designed to be superseded by any eventual deal we make with the AMPTP. Well, look. If that’s the case, this certainly diminishes the value of the deal and makes it look more like window-dressing for what was the inevitable return of his show. It doesn’t reduce the value of the deal to nothing…there is the fact that the existence of the deal could make it harder for the DGA to agree to a contract that’s far inferior to it.
I guess I’d love to know if the superseding clause is real or not, because if it is, I think it’s more accurate to call the Letterman deal a “waiver” instead of a “contract.”
Second, I’m a member of the WGA, and I have no idea what even the main bullet points of this deal are.
Our press release stated that Letterman accepted the deal that we were “prepared to offer the AMPTP” before talks broke off.
Well…what deal would that be now? I assume it’s less than what we had offered prior, but how much less? What are the numbers? And yeah, I’m only concerned about the New Media provisions. I mean, I’m sure it’s great that we’ve gotten Letterman to grant us jurisdiction over all the reality television and animation he’ll never do (and potentially only for the time period between now and when we do make a deal with the AMPTP), but the real meat and potatoes here is the internet streaming and sell-through numbers.
What are they?
Third, and perhaps most importantly……we should all be voting on this.
“Oh God, he’s talking about votes again!”
Well, yeah. I have this quirky thing about following the constitution.
Voting to ratify collective bargaining agreements (like the deal with Letterman) isn’t something I just think is nice to do. As far as I can tell from our constitution, it’s mandatory, no matter what kind of collective bargaining agreement it is. If it’s a deal between the union and an employer, then the Board has to vote on it…and then we all have to vote on it.
No membership vote, no deal.
This makes sense. After all, the deal isn’t between the current Letterman writers and Letterman, but between the guild (and thus all potential Letterman writers) and Letterman.
But don’t take my word for it. We have history here. When the WGA made the interim deals in 1988, including the one with Letterman, the members voted on it and ratified it.
I have zero doubt that our membership today would vote to ratify the Letterman deal, assuming the terms of the deal were decent enough.
So…what are the terms, and when’s the vote? Hopefully we’ll all get some answers this coming week.
Yes, I know. Everyone’s got their hands in yer pockets this year. Between taxes and charities and schools and the strike, the last thing you need is another pitch for a donation.
I’ll proceed nonetheless.
I worked with Jim Abrahams on Scary Movie 4. Jim’s probably the nicest guy in the world, and I’m even including people who used to be in the world like Buddha and Jesus and such. Jim’s youngest son, Charlie, was born with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, which causes serious epilepsy in children. Jim and his doctors happened upon a specific diet high in fat (not dissimilar to the Atkins Diet, actually) that helped control the seizures, and Charlie’s life was turned around.
Still, about 500,000 American children live with pediatric epilepsy…and no one yet knows why the ketogenic diet helps some kids, how it stops seizures and what we might learn from it in terms of finding an eventual cure. There’s much work to be done.
So this Christmas, consider donating to The Charlie Foundation. If you’d like the direct link to the donation page, go to the California Community Foundation and look for the donation link near the bottom of the page.
That was going to be my big pitch, but I just got an email from a fellow WGA member who is running a charity site to help out below-the-line folks who are struggling right now. If you’re a professional writer with some produced scripts, consider signing them and donating them to Cash For The Crew, which auctions them off and sends the proceeds to The Motion Picture & Television Fund, which does good work on behalf of all workers in our industry.
I did the “Striker’s Studio Walkathon” this morning, which was organized beautifully by Josh Singer. I’m not sure how many of us there were–maybe 70? (I’m bad at estimating crowds)–but we all logged seven miles.
It actually went pretty fast, and when I was handed a Gatorade at the Lankershim gate, it was the closest I’ve ever come to being in some kind of marathon. All in all, a nice bit of exercise for three hours, and I met some nice people, including NegCom member Carol Mendelsohn, who impressed me as very pragmatic, goal-oriented, moderately-minded…and, well….that’s enough for me to form a crush. My hopes and secular prayers are with you, Carol. What I don’t think any of us knew as we walked past NBC (twice) was that Jay Leno (and Conan O’Brien) had announced they were going back to work in January.
I guess some people are a bit flipped out about this, but I don’t really think it has any impact one way or another on anything. Same for the WGA’s announcement of an “individual deal” strategy. We’re gonna have to make a deal with the cartel sooner or later, Lions Gate and TWC notwithstanding (and being rather familiar with TWC’s management, I wouldn’t expect them to be any less staunch than the majors). Similarly, there’s talk of a sweetheart deal with Letterman, and again…I think that will have a low impact on the big picture. That’s why I’m really against all this crap where people infiltrate Carson Daley and “disrupt” his show. It doesn’t accomplish anything valuable in a long-term goal sense, and short-term, I think it makes us look desperate.
I get the idea of “soft” location picketing, where picketers seek to talk with crew and actors and share the WGA position on the issues, etc. Call it “interguild outreach.” That’s a good idea, and God knows we could use a better relationship with IA.
But disrupting location work?
Here’s my beef with that. One of us wrote whatever they’re shooting. One of us got paid, one of us sent in her dues, one of us is going to have her name on that episode or movie. Leave that work alone. If I thought for a second that disrupting a location would actually get us any closer to a fair deal on New Media, I’d wrassle with the moral dilemma of it all, but I don’t. Not even for a second.
If a writer says, “Yes, I’m okay with the Guild disrupting the location shoot for something I’ve written,” then I have no issue with it, beyond the fact that I don’t think it’s particularly effective.
Lastly, I got a lot of email on my post about the L.A. Times and apologizing.
Most of it was of the “yeah, they screwed you, live and learn” variety. Some of it was of the “apologizing isn’t enough for the terrible wrath you have brought down upon our house” variety, and surprisingly, a number of people were angry at me for apologizing at all, fearing that I had somehow been “gotten to” by pod people or something.
I think the “live and learn” people are the ones who got it right.
I know I said Lastly before, but this is really lastly…we’re heading into the holidays, so I’m going to be slowing down a bit. Up next, an analysis of Jonathan Handel’s latest on negotiations, and then I’m going to push a specific charity on you all. Christmas spirit and all that.
Leading up to the recent announcement that we were filing an unfair labor practice charge against the AMPTP, my hope for the negotiations was simple: I wanted the WGA to negotiate a fair and comprehensive deal on New Media.
When I wrote my last piece on “How To Get There From Here,” I wrote it under the assumption that the clock was running out on us. The DGA had been rumbling for quite some time, they have a tradition of negotiating very early, and when the AMPTP walked out on us (for the second time), the DGA didn’t exactly come out and say, “Good for you, WGA! Stick to all of those guns!”
Quite the opposite.
So, I figured why not go for broke and do anything reasonable to get back to the table to negotiate a fair and comprehensive deal on New Media?
What’s reasonable? Getting rid of our now famous “bargaining chip” demands (hint: when everyone including leadership starts calling them bargaining chips, they’re no longer bargaining chips…). Halting picketing. Cutting back on the press assaults.
What’s unreasonable? Accepting anything close to the Parade O’ Rollbacks on the table for New Media or separated rights.
And just for the seriously impaired, if you think I’ve ever thought or written that we should “stop striking” or swallow separated rights rollbacks or the DVD rate on sell-through or $250 buyouts on streaming, then you’re misinformed or just plain stupid. Or maybe I’m just a terrible communicator.
Probably a bit of both.
Anyway, and somewhat predictably, we did not do anything remotely close to the sort of thing that would get the AMPTP back to the table with us before the DGA steps in. In fact, we did the opposite. By filing the unfair labor practice charge, we seem to have eliminated any chance (if any chance existed…and maybe none did) of preempting the directors.
Funny thing about that NRLB charge. First, I think it’s a winner of a charge, inasmuch as our case is strong. The AMPTP’s demand that we drop jurisdictional issues may hew in their favor (jurisdiction is not a mandatory bargaining topic), but the other demands won’t. If things progress far enough for the NRLB to render a decision, I expect it to favor us (and Tony Segall, our general counsel, has already prevailed recently against NBC-Universal with the Labor Board, so don’t read too much into people who think this NLRB won’t ever give us a fair shake).
Second, once it was filed, it became a good idea.
See, I’m all about the strategy with this stuff. I freely admit that I find zero comfort or passion in group activities, chanting, marching, whistling, rallying, etc. I wish I did, but I don’t, and it’s always been that way. I don’t like religion, I don’t belong to clubs, I root for the Yankees in Dodger Stadium, I get angry at the Yankees in Yankee Stadium…
…Christ, I’m a party-pooper.
Still, if something is effective in achieving a goal (and in this case, to remind you, my goal is a fair deal on New Media), I’ll do it. If I thought shaving my head and dancing in a sari would give us a strategic edge in a better rate for electronic sell-through, you’d all have to suffer the sight of me jiggling around in saffron robes.
So, once we filed the unfair labor practice charge, I thought…okay, the AMPTP will turn to the DGA in the new year.
If they turn to the DGA, our strategy has to be to give the directors as much leverage as possible to get a fair deal on New Media.
The way to give them as much leverage as possible now is for us to be as unreasonable as possible. We’re the best threat the DGA has. “If you can’t make a deal with us, good luck making a deal with them.”
That’s why the unfair labor practice charge became a good idea the second after it was filed.
Time to switch gears.
Well, the Guild leadership really doesn’t have to switch gears. They should just keep doing what they’ve been doing. And if you’ve been happy with the strategy up until now, well, good for you, carry on…nothing to see here.
However, if you’ve been unhappy with the way things have been handled to date in pursuit of the goal, I suggest to you now that it’s time to embrace militancy. No, I don’t think what’s happened is a particularly good way of going about being a union. Striking to give another union leverage is, well, less than ideal. Still, those are the cards we’re holding now, and I don’t see any other way to play them.
So, if removing “bargaining chip” demands was a way to get back to the table, then keeping all of them and maybe adding a few more would be a good way of now adding leverage to the DGA…particularly if they’re ones we actually mean (I’d love to see some more creative rights demands on the table for screenwriters, for instance). If eliminating picketing was a way to get back to the table, then maintaining or increasing picketing would be a way of adding leverage to the DGA.
I was going to create a spot for United Hollywood, but I put it on hold because I didn’t want to add to the hostile atmosphere that I felt was preventing us from getting back to the table.
I’m gonna make that spot now (hey, Ian…you hear that? Let’s talk).
Of course, some of you might think, “What’s the point of acting unreasonable if it’s all a bluff to give the DGA more leverage?”
There’s the rub.
It can’t be a bluff.
If the DGA makes a bad deal on the internet, we’ll likely end up getting stuck with it, but we will have to keep striking for as long as we can to fight it.
If that seems like a contradiction in terms, all I can say is that there is a value to defensive striking. If disaster strikes and we’re backed against a wall, we may have to take a non-fatal gunshot, but not before kicking the other guy in the balls as hard as we can. At least he’ll think twice about pulling a pistol on us in the future.
So here’s to the end of reason. I sure wish this weren’t the case, and dissent is as necessary and vital to our mission as ever (I’ll be writing about that for United Hollywood as well)…
…but facts are facts, and strategy is strategy.
It’s time to be unreasonable.
I catch a lot of crap in here, and a lot of it is either unfounded, misdirected or just plain nuts.
But not this time.
If I weren’t me, and I read the L.A. Times article that came out yesterday, I’d be pretty annoyed.
Actually, I am me, and I’m pretty annoyed.
When I talk to the media, it’s for a purpose. I’m trying to do whatever I can to get my union to do a better job of getting us a deal on New Media. That’s all I care about. You may disagree with both my purpose and my execution, but like I said…it’s my union too, and I’m doing what I feel is necessary.
My purpose is not to simply run down the leadership. When I speak to the media, as I did on KPCC the other day, I try as best as I can to balance the message. Any criticism I have of the leadership is directed in such a way as to say, “I wish they would really do X, because I think it’s X that is going to help writers the most.”
When I spoke to Claudia Eller, her intent was to do an article alleging a possible growing splinter movement within the Guild.
While it’s true that I know many writers who share both my concerns about our current situation, they also all share my committment to trying to get a good deal. No one wants to roll over, no one wants to cave, and no one wants to give away our future. When I said I would strike to the death if they never moved off their separated rights rollbacks and profit-based residuals baloney, I meant it.
She asked for names, and I refused to give any. She asked if there was some kind of movement, and I denied that there was…because hey, guess what? There ain’t.
There isn’t anything like a Union Blues right now, and thank God. When there’s no deal on the table and no specificity to even argue over, the thought of some kind of formal pressure group should give us all hives.
Sooooo…while I have no problem reiterating my essential thesis, which is that New Media is the only thing that matters right now and our union should drop its valueless bargaining chips in order to get to the meat of the issue, I insisted to Claudia that she also print my larger point, which was that this was no time for splinter groups in our union.
She promised to do that.
So, I got screwed here. I’m not the first guy to get screwed, but it’s very disappointing, and because the article was full of comments by dissenting writers who didn’t give their names, the whole thing sounds like I’m leading or involved in some kind of Union Blues movement…or giving tacit approval of one…and I will never do anything like that.
And so I apologize. Frankly, my spidey sense was tingling on this one, and I should have just hung up the damned phone. I didn’t, I was stupid, I hate the way that article portrayed my feelings on this subject, and I apologize to anyone who read it.
I know some of you think I’m an attention whore who loves being in the paper. Trust me, I’m not. It’s actually very upsetting to read a lot of the things that are said in here about me, because I don’t like being called a coward, a sell-out, a stooge, a jerk, “I’ll see you (punch you in the face) on the line,” etc. Not much fun, ya know? Usually, I get over it pretty quickly, because I’m not a coward (well, maybe I am a little bit, but walking against the wind on this one is one of the braver things I’ve ever done), I’m not a sell-out, I’m not a stooge, and…
…well, okay, I’m a jerk, but nobody’s perfect.
This time, however, I have to tell you…none of you were sicker than I was after reading that. I wanted to make a point about what kind of dissent is defensible and what kind isn’t…and instead, I got used.
Yes, this time I’m perfectly willing to say that I got used.
It’s one thing when the AMPTP decides to make oblique, distorted references to what I write. I’m on record here about the AMPTP. Anyone can come and hear my true opinions about their lying, greedy, manipulative, exploitative ways.
It’s another thing when I’m selectively quoted…particularly when I was promised I wouldn’t be.
So once I finish my Dust Up obligation (in which I’m fairly in line with leadership anyway), I’m done with discussing this topic with the media. All of it. Papers, radio, semaphore…morse code. Go ahead, break out the champagne.
If someone wants to interview me about my thoughts on steroids in baseball, I’m still available.
But in the meantime, for anyone who felt that article crossed a line, I agree, and I apologize. It was a misrepresentation, and I feel terrible about it. I acknowledge that readership comes with certain responsibilities, and I failed this time.
There won’t even be an opportunity for it to happen again.
I was on KPCC with Larry Mantle this morning. You can listen if you’d like (I’m up at the 16:10 mark), but for those of you who think I’m a company-loving stooge, you might want to sit down. I was a little hard on the Beaver. I’m the third speaker on the program, but listen to the AMPTP spokesman who comes before me in order to get the context for my comments.
Also, you can read the second installment of my Dust Up debate here. I get to rebut this time, and the topic is a little more to the meat of the strike.
We got a little slammed today from all the traffic. Not sure what the stats for today are yet (they lag a bit), but yesterday was our biggest single day ever…with nearly 8,000 unique visitors showing up (and many of those visitors returning multiple times over the course of the day).
If the site slows or stops, just give it a rest for an hour and come back…and sorry for the inconvenience.
I’m doing the weekly L.A. Times “dust up” feature, in which two people have an email debate about a current topic.
Naturally, it’s about the strike. I’m debating with a producer.
You can see the first entry here. It’s pretty structured. I initate on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I rebut on Tuesday and Thursday.
Kind of a bummer. Rebutting is more fun.
They’re not permanently over, but let’s steal a page from William Goldman and call them “mostly dead.” That’s what our “here” is right now.
Our here is nowhere. We’re on strike, there are no talks scheduled, the companies have presented an unacceptable, regressive proposal that they know is unacceptable and regressive, and we have precious few cards left to play.
Ah, and then there’s the issue of the DGA.
So, what’s “there?” There is where we have an acceptable, signed contract.
Patric Verrone believes the answer to getting there from here is to stay the course. Whatever got us to this point is what we ought to keep doing. Unity, faith in leadership, picketing, rallies, a steadfast resolve to maintain our current proposals…oh, and no dissent, please.
This issue of dissent is a tricky one, and I have to give Patric credit for managing to find a new way to discredit anyone who disagrees with him. The meme is simple. Disagreeing with Patric is what the companies want you to do, and the companies are greedy jerks. Ergo, agree with Patric or you’re a company-loving jerk.
Or as he puts it:
We will not fall for their “divide and conquer” tricks designed to separate Guild leadership from membership, members from one another, writers from our supporters, and truth from innuendo.Hmmm. But, and I know, it’s crazy…what if you think the companies are wrong and greedy and selfish and unfair AND you think Patric is wrong too? What if you’ve honestly considered his strategy, rejected all “tricks” and PR and spin…and still come to the conclusion that his strategy is flawed?
Keep your mouth shut?
Discuss it with him? Write him an email?
Done that a few times. Not much effect.
Look, these things have to be talked about, and they must be discussed in the open. I’m doing my own version of back-room muttering (there are many, many things I do not write about in here…I’m not a journalist looking to publish scoops…I’m a writer looking to influence policy in my union, as is my right), but there are some things that need to be spoken out loud in order to influence and persuade. Yes, I’m trying to influence and persuade. Yes, I think my perspective and the perspective of those that think like me is one that’s more likely to get us a deal we can accept. You may agree or disagree. Nonetheless, neither you nor I nor any dues-paying member of the WGA has a responsibility to silence and complicity if we think there’s a better way of approaching things.
Patric is a smart guy and a nice guy, but he’s not the Oracle at Delphi. There may be a better way. And if we share a common goal, which is to elicit as much money as possible from the companies, then we owe it to ourselves to talk about how to get there. If we can’t share in a community of open, sunshine-through-the-windows debate, then bad stuff is going to fester. I know that some of my fellow writers think I’m a bad guy. That I want to foment rebellion.
I sure as hell don’t. I want the opposite (and the thought of any Union Blues style fissure in the membership deeply concerns me…I’m the loyal opposition, not the “screw you, I’m holding a gun to your head so I can get back to work” opposition). I want exactly what Patric wants, in a way. I want unity, I want progress, I want a good deal…I just think that his way ain’t working. In fact, I think his way is hurting us now, and hurting us in a fashion that could leave permanent scars.
Will that statement give comfort and aid to the AMPTP?
The greedy, rapacious, vindictive, disrespectful, deceitful, amoral-when-they’re-not-immoral, conniving and imperious AMPTP?
Gee, I hope not. If they feel like linking back to my remarks, 50,000 people are gonna get a faceful of what I think about them, and as you can see, it’s not particularly warm and fuzzy.
Still, we have to make a deal with them, warts and all. That’s something Patric and I agree on.
Let’s talk about how we might be able to get there.
But First, Why Are We Here?
An important question.
When you talk to members of the Negotiating Committee, they will tell you, regardless of their relative militancy or moderation, that the AMPTP was generally unrepentent. They pulled fast ones, lied, stonewalled, and ultimately stood their ground with an offer that is, essentially, contemptuous.
Here are the possibilities.
This offer is their actual bottom line, and they would rather watch the town go up in flames than budge from it.
This offer is merely the opener, and a better, smarter group of negotiators on our side would have been able to get them off of it and closer to something acceptable.
This offer is a red herring designed to distract us from their real position, which is that they don’t want to make a deal with our union at this time.
I think possibility #2 isn’t likely. Regardless of David Young’s inexperience in these matters, there are too many smart and temperate people in that room. Tony Segall, John Bowman and quite a few others are well-versed in the fine art of negotiation and diplomatic derring-do. Believe me, if I thought our NegCom was just a bunch of dummies, I’d say so (I know, big shock). They’re not. They’re smart men and women. So…
Possibility #1? Nah. I think we can reject that one out of hand, not only because their last proposal was the first of its general format, but also because they didn’t even bother to call it their “last, best and final” offer, which is one requirement to attempt to get the NLRB to declare an impasse and allow management to unilaterally impose that deal on our union whether we agree to it or not (Did you know that could happen? Well, just another thing to keep you up at night.).
So let’s consider #3. They didn’t want to make a deal. And why not?
Few reasons why. From 2005 to the start of our negotiations, the companies watched in growing anger as we attacked their advertisers and executives with a corporate campaign, interfered with their product integration plans by traveling to Europe to lobby against laws that would allow it in content, filed overtime lawsuits against the companies that provided them with reality programming, sponsored groups of reality employees who barged in on their conferences in protest and fomented a strike at America’s Next Top Model, all in an effort to organized reality employees…in an effort to improve our strike threat.
We failed miserably in that goal, but not before really pissing them off.
After two years of this, I suspect the companies arrived at one or all of the following conclusions.
Patric and David Young are crazy, and we can’t make an acceptable deal with crazy people.
Patric and David Young must be punished for what they’ve done, because if we don’t punish them, they’re going to keep acting like this, and maybe SAG will get some kooky ideas in their heads too.
Patric and David Young will never accept our actual bottom line, which is the deal we will never offer better than.
Mind you, I’m talking about how they think. Patric and David aren’t crazy. And using negotiations to punish a union for strident activity is, well, probably cutting off one’s corporate nose to spite one’s face.
However, if they came to believe that we would never take their bottom line, well…the AMPTP does have options. They don’t have to bargain with us. They may have decided to smack us around like a red-headed stepchild as a warning to the DGA and SAG (“Don’t let this be you!”). The obvious strategic implications are one reason why I hope the DGA and SAG don’t allow themselves to be intimidated by the way our negotiations have fallen apart.
Or maybe they just figure that the DGA will accept their bottom line, so why bother with us?
Regardless, it’s not too late. Using the aforementioned as basic assumptions about the nature of the now, let’s think about how to reclaim a little self-determination here.
A New Goal
Prior to the collapse, our goal was simply to get a good contract.
Now, post-collapse, it should be to negotiate our own contract before the DGA does it for us.
Once the DGA sets a rate, pattern bargaining and common strategic sense tells me that this will be the rate, come hell, high water, brimstone, nuclear explosions or anything else we or SAG might throw their way. I know our side has announced loudly that they won’t take any old deal the DGA makes, but I’m here to tell you that if the deal locks in a formula…
So, let’s talk about what it might take to get us back to the table, and get the AMPTP off their bullshit proposal.
For starters, we need to stop obsessing over this nonsense phrase “we can’t negotiate with ourselves!” It’s meaningless. If you create a set of demands, and the other side refuses those demands, what are you going to do? Hold your breath for a year? Of course not. You have to evaluate your demands, and remove some while maintaining your leveraged threat against the other side.
In this case, our strongest leveraged threat is gone. The WGA is never as strong as it is right before a strike. Once we struck, we fired the big but sole bullet in our gun. It hit them, they flinched a bit, but they’re definitely still on their feet. So now what?
Time to get dramatic.
First, let me say that I’m operating under an assumption that we cannot “outlast” the companies. There are a few writers out there who think that if we strike long enough…perhaps a year or two years or twenty years…we will destroy the companies, or bring them to their knees.
This will not happen. Ever.
These companies do not have knees.
We’re dealing with nearly a trillion dollars in market capitalization. Unlike 1988, when we struck for 5 months, they have more options to bolster their schedules. The very libraries we want to get more of a piece of are the things that keep them afloat even when the pipelines run dry. As one studio chairman told me a few years ago, “The only way to reliably make money in this business is to have a library, and to not produce new material.”
Some writers think the shareholders will rise in revolt.
They will not.
The shareholders that matter are the large institutional investors with major positions in the big congloms. If you think they weren’t told about the AMPTP strategy, positions and bottom lines long before we ever got the news, I’d suggest you’re wrong. I think those investors know exactly what the companies are doing, and I think they love it.
Investors, as a rule, HATE labor unions and tend to revolt against companies who are too soft on unions. Not too hard.
We waited until late in the game to negotiate. They didn’t move. We threatened a strike. They didn’t move. We threatened Teamster support. They didn’t move. We got the showrunners to walk out entirely. They didn’t move. We staged huge rallies and had well-organized pickets at every studio in town. They didn’t move.
Now it’s time to dramatically reduce all of our demands down to the only one that matters, in an attempt to wrest this negotiation back to our union and away from the DGA.
What We Shouldn’t Be Asking For Any More
Let’s start with an easy one. We’re asking that we have the right to sympathy strike when other unions go on strike.
Look, let’s put aside that no Hollywood union has had that right in the last fifty years. Why in God’s green earth would the companies agree to this? They already think we’re strike-happy as it is. Will they willingly make it worse?
The reason this is still on the table is because Patric believes, I think, that we need to remake ourselves in the image of more aggressive trade unions like SEIU.
Ain’t gonna happen, and if dumping that is a prerequisite for discussions, we should dump it.
Next, we’re asking for jurisdiction over animation.
Most of what they companies say is calculated horseshit, but they’ve kinda got us on this one. IATSE has jurisdiction over theatrical animation…and that’s when it’s union at all. Like Patric, I’m a member of IATSE Animation Guild Local 839. Like Patric, I find their contract to be inferior to ours. Unlike Patric, I’m not willing to throw a few more strikers on the fire in a bizarre attempt to undo everything that labor law compels. IATSE owns that space, we don’t, game over, move on.
And then there’s the question of reality television.
I admit it.
I thought he was faking.
Let me rephrase.
I thought Patric was willing to organize reality inasmuch as reality workers could serve as a strike wedge against us, but I didn’t think he’d be willing to pull the pin on that particular grenade and drop it down our collective pants.
On Friday, Patric apparently said that we (that’s all of us in the WGAw and WGAE) won’t accept any contract that doesn’t grant us jurisdiction over reality writers. I say “apparently” because I wasn’t at the Fremantle Rally, but I got this one from about seven different writers (at least one of whom is a Patric supporter), and it was reported in the media as well.
So let’s stipulate that he said it, and he believes it.
That’s just nuts.
First, by the rules governing labor-management negotiations, the AMPTP doesn’t have to address issues of jurisdiction at all. They can simply say “not talking about it,” and if we insist that it be addressed, then we’re the ones negotiating in bad faith (and there are consequences). Second, we’ve been whomping on this one for over two years now, and the horse isn’t just dead…it’s a finely-misted goo by now. Third…
…and this is the one that kills me…
…the very reality writers Patric wishes to strike for are the same people who are currently and actively undermining our strike.
I’m editing my movie in an office building that hosts a good number of reality productions.
Place is a frickin’ beehive.
So the deal is that we spend millions to organize reality employees, we expend any goodwill we had with the companies to do it, we get nothing out of it, the reality employees steadfastly refuse to walk out of their jobs en masse, they continue to work merrily away while we go on strike, thus reducing the efficacy of said strike…and we’re supposed to keep striking for them?
Hell to the no.
We need to drop the reality demand now. It’s a loser.
Residual rates for reuse in New Media, and jurisdiction over original work for New Media.
Those are the biggies. Everything else should go.
Let’s focus on the stuff that matters.
How We Can Rescue This
First, let’s embrace a fact.
Fact: everything that we thought would have a positive impact on the companies has, in fact, not helped us in any important way.
Not unity, not picketing, not rallies, not positive PR, nothing.
That’s not to say that unity and picketing aren’t important. I don’t discount the positive feelings writers have taken away from the last month. That feeling of community and action is surely real.
But it’s a feeling. And you can’t fill those green residuals envelopes with feelings.
Somewhere along the line, we got suckered into a strange rhetoric, by which the means of the strike actions became the end. Our communications marked our “victories” in measures of rally attendance, picket attendance, positive PR, support from actors…
…but none of that is goal material. It’s “try and get you your goal” material. The truth is that we can’t claim any real victory yet, because we haven’t had any real victory yet.
But we can.
First, I think we should probably stop picketing. It didn’t work. I don’t think that’s going to change, and there’s that old saw about repeating the same thing and expecting different results. That’s not to say that we should stop acting as a community. There are other ways we can support each other through a difficult strike. Picketing is one of them, but it’s not a particularly efficient use of our time or our energy. Will the companies view this as “weakness?” Who cares? What, they’re going to make an even worse offer? No. Far better to continue to promote our best and brightest and most successful as consistently backing the strike.
I’ve always said, our union’s strength isn’t in its quantity, but its quality. Our best show of strength is not a turnout of 4,000 members of our union, but a turnout of 400 of our most coveted members. Those are the writers the companies fear losing, and those are the writers the companies hope will turn coat.
Second, we need to get some influence peddlers to help us.
Much has been made of the companies’ decision to hire some of the brightest and most effective influence peddlers in the business (some people call them “PR” people, but that’s too simplistic when you’re talking about individuals who can get Hillary Clinton or George W. Bush on the phone). I happen to know that our leadership was approached weeks ago about hiring a similarly powerful influence peddler to help them bring real political pressure to bear on the companies (YouTube videos are great and popular, but something tells me you need to sit in Henry Waxman’s office and scare him a little before he decides to bring some real pain).
Our leadership said, “No, not interested.”
They should get reinterested immediately. There’s no shame in getting help. We’re writers. We all have agents. Our Guild needs an agent right now, and badly.
Third, we need some new people on our side. Specifically, we need dissenters. Loyal opposition. Our room seems to be a bit too bubbly. My experience with leadership was that they were disinterested in bad news, overvalued good news, and hated to “think like the companies.”
That was a big one with them. “Why should we have to think like the companies? That’s our problem! We think too much like the companies! We should think like a union!”
Yes. This is true. But the purpose of thinking like the companies isn’t to be them, but to anticipate their responses and exploit their weaknesses. We need more writers in that room who disagree with the strategy-to-date, if for no other reason than it hasn’t worked.
By the way, this isn’t me asking for the gig. I don’t belong in that room for a lot of reasons. But others do, and I think recomposing the NegCom at this juncture is a smart idea. We need fresh horses who aren’t saddled with the emotional baggage of the last year.
Finally, we need a real dialogue with the DGA. Yes, I know…easier said than done. And sure, maybe they’re the enemy of a good deal. If so, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Finding a power-broker who can bridge the gap between the unions might be part of the equation. Perhaps a lawyer, or a universally-respected hyphenate (Steve Zaillian, I’m thinking of you…).
Now, maybe none of this will happen, and we’ll continue to paddle into the wind. But I’m an optimist. There’s still a chance to get things back on track. Our leadership may have to swallow a little pride, but pride’s easier to swallow than failure.
And failure is what I’m desperately hoping we can avoid.