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WGA and Hollywood studios reach deal on new contract

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The Writers Guild of America and Hollywood's major studios have reached agreement on a new three-year contract for film and TV writers.

After a final two-day session of negotiations that ended late Tuesday night, the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers agreed on a tentative deal to replace one that expires May 1, a source close to the negotiations said. The proposed contract is subject to approval by the guild's members on the east and west coasts.

Representatives of the WGA and the producers alliance declined to comment. The guild was expected to issue a statement later Wednesday to members outlining details of the agreement.

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Talks, which began Feb. 3, were suspended twice last month and resumed Monday after the sides reached agreement on all but one sticking point.

The guild had objected to a growing industry practice of requiring writers to be "exclusive" to a program during a show's hiatus at a time when many shows have shorter seasons.

Negotiations got off to a tense start in early February when WGA representatives accused the producers alliance of seeking $60 million in "rollbacks" from writers, including cuts in the union's health and pension plans as well as reductions in pay rates for screenplays and TV residuals.

Although neither side has publicly commented on the negotiations, the WGA has told members it is seeking to improve pay levels for writers who work on basic cable shows and preserve health and pension benefits, among other goals.

The new agreement is expected to be patterned after a contract recently negotiated by the Directors Guild of America. That contract, ratified in November, included modest 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.

In an email to members issued Wednesday night, union negotiators hailed the agreement:

"The three-year deal features increases to our minimum compensation rates, increased contributions to our Pension Plan, minimums for subscription video-on-demand programs, increased residuals for ad-supported streaming, outsized increases in script minimums for one-hour basic cable writers, and a doubling of the theatrical script publication fee,'' said the statement from Chip Johannessen and Billy Ray
Co-Chairs of the 2014 WGA Negotiating Committee.

"Importantly, we have now placed limits on the options and exclusivity requirements often imposed on episodic television writers," the statement continued. "Our negotiations on these issues were complicated and protracted, but the companies worked with us to find solutions.  As a result, the endless unpaid holds that have become more and more commonplace in television have now been addressed in the MBA (minimum basic agreement) for the first time ever."

As expected, the pact includes 3% annual wages increase, 5% annual increases in script minimums for hour-long dramatic basic cable rates, and a 0.5% increase in the contribution to the pension fund. The agreement also includes higher payments for ad-supported online streaming and reduces the free streaming window -- the period when no residuals are paid -- from 17 days to seven days for most programs in the first seven episodes of a series, the union leaders said.

This post was updated to include the guild's statement.

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