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WGA says studios seeking '$60 million in rollbacks'

On the eve of contract negotiations with the studios, the Writers Guild of America said employers are seeking big cuts in healthcare benefits and pay.

The guild said opening proposals from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers contained $60 million in "rollbacks for writers," including cuts in the union's health and pension plans, as well as reductions in pay rates for screenplays and TV residuals.

"Are you surprised? We were," Chip Johannessen and Billy Ray, co-chairs of the union's negotiating committee, wrote in a letter to members. "And we thought you should know about it as we begin negotiations."

The union leaders added that the demands are galling because they "come at a time of unprecedented prosperity for the studios.  The collective profits of our 6 major bargaining partners (Disney, CBS, Comcast, Fox, Time Warner and Viacom) just hit a record $40 billion. This prosperity is based on our work, we are the creative force driving it. Are $60 million in rollbacks a just reward?" 

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Despite the demands, the union negotiators added that their priorities remain "achieving parity in basic cable, taking care of unfinished business in new media, and limiting unpaid exclusivity and holding arrangements that increasingly prevent television writers from making a living -- this while protecting the health and pension plans that make all our lives tenable."

A spokesman for the producers alliance decline to comment.

Contract talks are set to begin Monday. Although opening proposals are only starting points in negotiations, the pointed letter to members suggests that these negotiations could be the most contentious since the WGA staged a 100-day strike in late 2007. The current three-year contract expires May 1.

The Directors Guild of America in November ratified a new three-year film and TV contract that includes proposed increases in wages, residuals and significant new pay terms for work in new media. That agreement was negotiated seven months before the contract was set to expire.

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