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Writers Guild of America, West plans job cuts

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Confronted with a larger-than-anticipated deficit, the Writers Guild of America, West plans to cut as many as 20 positions from its payroll by the end of the month.

The guild, which has about 185 employees, notified staff representatives last week that cuts, which would begin as early as this week, were necessary to plug a deficit of more than $2 million, said two people familiar with the matter. The union has an operating budget of about $25 million.

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David Young, the union’s executive director, recently told the guild’s board of directors that he was considering the cuts to close a budget shortfall, which guild officials have largely blamed on investment losses caused by the recession and a sharp falloff in jobs and pay for writers in the last year.

The union had no immediate comment on the planned layoffs.

During the 100-day writers strike last year, TV networks beefed up their programming of reality TV programs to fill the airwaves as popular scripted shows went off the air. That trend continued after the strike ended in February, creating fewer job opportunities for writers. Some TV shows didn’t come back, while others returned with fewer episodes.

Writers also found it harder to fetch the same rates for their work at broadcast networks, which have been losing market share and viewers to the Internet, looking to cut costs. More recently, the work slowdown has been exacerbated by the recession as advertisers scale back spending on TV shows.

All of which has meant less money coming into the guild’s coffers. The Writers Guild is dependent on income that writers pull in. Guild members, as part of their union dues, are required to contribute 1.5% of their earnings each quarter.

Also contributing to the budget shortfall, people familiar with the union’s finance say, is the guild’s ongoing campaign to organize writers in the reality TV sector who work behind the scenes crafting dialog for various programs but don’t receive union pay or benefits. The guild spent about $400,000 on its campaign last year, said one person familiar with the campaign.

Some of the positions could be eliminated through attrition, leading to fewer actual layoffs. Affected employees will receive severance packages and a guarantee that they will be called back if the union hires again. The cuts are expected to be completed by the end of the month.

-- Richard Verrier


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