“Go home and get a
nice quiet sleep.”For a large portion of my first year on the Board of Directors of the Writers Guild of America, west, I was involved in an effort to mediate a serious dispute with the Writers Guild of America, East.
If the notion that there are two WGAs sounds stupid to you (much less the idea that they’re fighting), well, join the club called “everyone else in the world who is rational”.
The dispute centered around screenwriters, and it goes back to the formation of the two unions. I’ll give you the really short version: the WGAw agreed that the WGAE could represent screenwriters in the East in order to help the WGAE seem, well, prestigious, but in return, those screenwriters would also be in the WGAw, and half their dues would have to come our way.
That worked just fine. And then, at some point in the early 70′s, the WGAE said, “Actually, we don’t want to pay anymore.”
So begain a rift that would last 30 some-odd years.
The rift isn’t only financial. There are huge cultural differences between West and East. The East is considered by some to be overmilitant. The West is considered by some to be obsessed with first writers when it comes to credits. The East is more of a traditional labor union. The West has far more members and far more money, and acts like it.
And so it goes. Over the years, the distrust and malice has grown. So, too, did the increasing debt owed by the East to the West for the services that the West performs on behalf of East members. After all, the West has a staff of around 200 employees, included a few dozen attorneys. The East has a staff of fewer than 30, with maybe 2 attorneys.
A few weeks ago, the new leaderships of both unions announced that they had finally reached an agreement. What can I say? I think it’s an okay deal. Not great. And I think we would have gotten a far better deal for WGAw members if we had held out, because our legal case was far far stronger than theirs.
On the other hand, given the leadership we have right now, I believe this is the best deal I could have hoped for. That’s not a back-handed compliment, by the way, if any of those folks are reading this. It’s a direct criticism.
That out of the way, here are the major points of the deal.
In order to compensate the WGAw for the various services they receive from it, the WGAE will essentially pay a percentage of all of its dues to the West. That number will be far greater than the zippo we were receiving to date, but far less than what our current constitution calls for them to send us. Since the courts would have eventually compelled the WGAE to give us more per year, call this one as WINNER: WGAE
In the past, despite reams of passages calling for arbitration between the guilds in cases of dispute, the WGAE has often used a delay tactic. In this current dispute, they challenged the arbitrability of it in the first place, which was flat out insane. Theoretically, this settlement will create an arbitration clause that no one can wriggle out of or challenge without serious penalty. Since this takes away a traditional weapon from the East, this one’s WINNER: WGAw
While our constitutions called for national meetings once a year between the Guild leaderships, the WGAE often dragged their feet on this, and the WGAw wasn’t exactly banging the drum for them either. The settlement agreement forces these meetings to happen more frequently, and the dates are already set in stone. This is sort of a push, but since I think the result of these frequent meetings is a positive net gain for those of us who want a merger, and since it’s the WGAw that has been most in favor of a merger, I’m calling this as WINNER: WGAw
There are joint committees for things like awards and credits. Those committee makeups have now been mandated by this settlement to ensure that the WGAE has at least 33% of the seats. Given that they do not have anything close to 33% of the screenwriters out there (it’s more like 18%), this is a major victory for the East on committees like screen credits committees, etc. This is also a huge victory for them because instead of having 2 out of 15 seats on the Negotiating Committee, their representation will be proportional by voting members, which should mean an increase in seats. WINNER: WGAE
If there’s one thing that has angered me about the WGAE, it’s that they have different membership and voting standards than we do. To get into the WGAw, you need to accumulate a certain amount of work that equals 24 “credits”. At that point, you’re in, and as long as you stay current with your dues, you can vote on things like collective bargaining agreements…or strikes. Not so with the WGAE. All you need to get into the WGAE is employment. One job. That’s it. No matter how small. Therefore, a guy who writes one half-hour script in L.A. isn’t in the union and can’t vote, but a guy who writes a half-hour script in NYC can! This is ridiculous. This settlement states that the two unions will come to an agreement on common voting standards. The WGAE can let in whomever they want, but the voting standards for both memberships will be the same. Assuming the WGAw doesn’t lose its mind and lower its voting standards too far, this one is…WINNER: WGAw
There are a few other areas, but I feel like I’ve bored you enough. Suffice it to say, this was possibly for the best, but perhaps for the worst.
How’s that for mealy-mouthed?
In the meantime, I’ve got a ton of opinions about what has been going on with our union lately, but I’m going to keep my mouth shut until I’m in a more comfortable position to talk. Stay tuned…because things in this town are getting very very very odd.
And not in a good way. At least, I’m not happy.
If you haven’t read the recent article in the L.A Times about where we’re heading, check it out here.