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WGA wants studios’ support in the fight with agencies. Will they give it?

WGA
The Writers Guild of America West headquarters in Los Angeles.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Writers Guild of America will demand studios provide better pay for TV and film writers as streaming transforms Hollywood, but it also wants something more elusive: their support in the protracted fight against talent agencies.

On Wednesday, writers got the first glimpse at the so-called pattern of demands on which the union will base its bargaining proposals when it faces off with members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers this year, according to an email sent to members.

Like the Directors Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA, which represents actors and other performers, the WGA is readying to renegotiate its minimum basic agreement, which expires in May. (Contracts for the DGA and SAG-AFTRA expire June 30.)

As expected, the WGA is seeking increases in minimum pay for its members across all areas at a time when streaming has dramatically changed how writers are compensated.

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But, to the surprise of some members, the list of demands also includes a request that signatories to the guild’s agreement can negotiate only with agents franchised by the WGA.

In March, the AMPTP rejected a request by the union to include a similar provision in its minimum basic agreement that would prohibit AMPTP members from doing business with talent agencies that refused to sign the WGA’s agency code of conduct.

The AMPTP argued it would be akin to a “group boycott of talent agencies that did not meet with Guild approval,” according to a letter by the AMPTP to the WGA in March.

The WGA and AMPTP declined to comment.

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The WGA has been locked in a bitter dispute with the Assn. of Talent Agents over the new code of conduct. The union has contended that industry practices — such as agencies’ investing in production companies and charging substantial fees to package talent for TV shows — cause agents to put their own economic interests ahead of their clients.

Agencies have said that they can manage any conflicts caused by affiliated productions and that packaging benefits writers because they do not have to pay a commission fee.

In April, thousands of writers fired their agents. Since then, the WGA has negotiated separate agreements with individual agencies. Some of those agreements have allowed agencies such as the Gersh Agency and APA to continue collecting packaging fees until 2021 and to own up to a 5% stake in an affiliated production company.

More than 80 individual agencies have signed deals with the WGA, including eight members that have broken ranks with the Assn. of Talent Agents.

Amid the rising labor strife, Hollywood studios have already begun preparations for a possible strike this year.

WGA leaders want to ensure that writers’ pay keeps pace with the industry’s rapid growth and evolution.

Though streaming has created more job opportunities for writers, many complain that the new video model has eroded their incomes. Studios are commissioning shorter seasons and writers are losing out on revenue from what would have been syndication, or the reselling of their shows.

The pattern of demands seeks to address some of those concerns and also includes improvements to the pension plan, health fund, paid family leave for writers and other employment protections such as anti-discrimination measures.

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Guild members have until Feb. 7 to vote on the pattern of demands.


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