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WGA negotiator calls studios ‘despicable’ in fallout over virtual negotiations

David Young, chief negotiator for the Writers Guild of America
David Young, chief negotiator for the Writers Guild of America
(Béatrice de Géa / Los Angeles Times)

It looked like the Writers Guild of America and the major Hollywood studios were ready to come to the virtual negotiating table on May 11, days after their current collective bargaining agreement runs out.

Not so fast.

Last week, WGA West Executive Director and chief negotiator David Young and studios negotiator Carol Lombardini seemed to agree to exchange contract proposals on May 1 and start negotiating the terms 10 days later, in the hope of averting a widely feared writers strike.

But those talks could be in jeopardy, judging by the heated rhetoric between them.

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In an email to Lombardini on Friday, Young expressed exasperation over her response to his request to also extend access to healthcare for its members as part of a broader agreement on negotiating dates and extending the writers’ contract to June 30.

“There will be an agreement when both sides agree there’s one,” Young said in his April 17 evening email obtained by The Times. “You people are despicable.”

The AMPTP and the WGA appear close to an agreement that would extend the union’s current contract until June 30 and begin negotiations for a new contract on May 11.

Lombardini on Monday fired back in an email, also reviewed by The Times, in which she expressed bafflement over the allegation.

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”You give no reason or context for this ad hominem attack,” wrote Lombardini, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. “We can only assume that you are upset that the AMPTP did not immediately agree to your separate request that the Producer-WGA Health Plan eligibility provisions be amended to extend eligibility for anyone who does not meet the eligibility requirements.”

The war of words comes as the film and television industry is struggling for survival amid the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, which has shut down production and live events. Even though some companies like Netflix — which is not an AMPTP member — have benefited from consumers being forced to stay home, media conglomerates that own the major studios have been hit hard. Studios are eager to forge new pay deals with unions so they can restart production as soon as the quarantine ends.

The AMPTP needs to renegotiate its collective bargaining agreement with the writers by May 1, or agree with writers to extend the current contract to June 30. That’s also when the collective bargaining agreement with SAG-AFTRA, which represents actors and other performers, expires.

“The WGA asked the AMPTP to approve an extension of healthcare coverage through the end of the year for writers whose eligibility is impacted by the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic,” WGAW President David A. Goodman said in a statement. “The WGA fund has sufficient reserves to cover this contingency. The extension is the right thing to do, and writers’ employers should not have to think twice about ensuring that the people who have made their businesses successful have access to quality, uninterrupted healthcare.”

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In her email to Young, Lombardini said the group planned to go ahead with talks in May but said the matter of writers who may lose eligibility under their health plan as a result of the COVID-19-related shutdowns is separate.

“It is critical to get the negotiations started both because of the impending expiration date and so that when it is time to resume production, the industry is in a position to do so immediately, without concern that another shutdown might be imminent due to the absence of a contract and the possibility of a strike,” Lombardini wrote.

She added that the alliance was willing to discuss the health plan issues along with the co-chairs of the plan as well as its chief executive.

Where that leaves the upcoming talks is anyone’s guess.


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