Writers Guild of America West President David Goodman was easily reelected Monday in a hotly contested race that highlighted deep divisions in the union’s handling of a long-running dispute with agents.
Goodman, a 56-year-old showrunner for Fox TV series “The Orville,” defeated Oscar-nominated film writer Phyllis Nagy, who led a dissident campaign against him and other union leaders, citing a lack of progress in negotiations to end unpopular industry practices. Goodman received 4,395 votes compared with Nagy’s 1,282 votes.
Her defeat gives Goodman and his supporters an important boost and diminishes the pressure to bring a swift resolution to a standoff that has captivated Hollywood.
The dissidents did not win any executive seats or any of the eight open board seats despite a strong show of support from prominent writers such as Ava DuVernay and Ryan Murphy.
The election served as a referendum on the union’s tactics for combating agency practices, Goodman said in an interview.
“The high margin of the victory for me and the people I was running with is a sign that the membership wants us to continue with this fight and with the strategy we are pursuing,” Goodman said.
On Monday night, Nagy and other dissident candidates that ran on the “WGA Forward Together” slate congratulated Goodman and those who were elected.
“Elections crucially give voice to opposing points of view, and while our strategies may differ, our goals are the same: to serve the best interests of our fellow members,” the statement said. “We remain committed, passionate advocates for our Guild who believe that far more unites us than divides us.”
The conflict kicked off in April when the WGA — objecting to several common but controversial agency habits — instructed its members to fire talent agents who had not signed a new union-proposed code of conduct, one that replaced a 43-year-old agreement.
At the time, writers voted by a 95% margin in support of the code which barred packaging — lucrative fees that agencies collect for assembling talent on TV shows instead of paying the usual 10% commission — and so-called affiliated production activities. The union argued such practices create inherent conflicts of interest and give agents less of an incentive to help their writer clients. Agents argued that conflicts can be managed and that writers often benefit from packaged deals.
After talks with the Assn. of Talent Agents collapsed, the union began negotiating with individual agencies. More than 70 firms agreed to the union’s terms, but none of the largest agencies have signed on as the conflict has played out in court.
Last April, the union sued four large talent agencies in state court, only to request its lawsuit be dismissed months later. Meanwhile, in June and July, three talent agencies — Creative Artists Agency, United Talent Agency and WME — filed lawsuits in federal court, alleging the union violated antitrust laws. The union filed counterclaims.
The protracted litigation and the lack of continued negotiations with the ATA have been criticized by some members of the union, including Nagy. In July, hundreds of writers, among them prominent showrunners such as Shonda Rhimes and David Benioff, signed a letter voicing their concern over a legal battle that could take years to resolve. They backed Nagy for president, along with other executive candidates including “Chernobyl” writer Craig Mazin as vice president and military veteran and writer Nick Jones Jr. as secretary-treasurer.
Mazin later dropped out of the race because of a family medical issue. Jones lost to Michele Mulroney, who was backed by the union’s nominating committees, for secretary-treasurer. Producer and writer Marjorie David, backed by Goodman, ran uncontested for vice president.
Candidates who were elected to the board include incumbents Luvh Rakhe, Meredith Stiehm, Nicole Yorkin and Angelina Burnett as well as new entrants Liz Alper, Robb Chavis, Dante W. Harper and Zoe Marshall, who were backed by the union’s nominating committees.
Without agents, writers are finding work through the union’s online tools and by networking on social media or through events.
Some writers and entertainment law attorneys are concerned that if the dispute with the talent agencies continues much longer, writers could be at a disadvantage when their main film and TV contract with the studios expires next year.
“We are obligated to work swiftly, efficiently, and fairly with the agencies to resolve this action, before careers disappear,” Nagy, 59, wrote in a Medium post.
Former union President John Wells, who backed Nagy, said the guild needed to focus its energies on fundamental shifts brought by the streaming revolution.
Already, Disney has been pressing TV producers, writers and other profit participants to accept new deal terms that would significantly change the way they are compensated and would cut significantly into the money these participants would make on shows that become hits. The new formula offers profits sooner in exchange for the studio to have complete control of any future licensing revenue, according to the conversations the L.A. Times has had with agents, union representatives and attorneys. Disney has declined to comment on the plan.
Goodman said the point of the union’s strategy was to try to get more money for writers by pushing talent agencies to better align their interests with their writer clients.
“We took on this fight because we feel that packaging fees created incentive for the agencies to fight for their own money, not for ours,” Goodman said in an interview earlier this month.