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No deal yet between writers and studios as contract deadline passes

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

The Writers Guild of America and the major studios continued negotiations on a new contract Tuesday, but they did not announce any new deal before a midnight deadline.

The union, which represents about 10,000 members, began negotiations via video conference on a proposed film and TV contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on May 18.

The sides had agreed to extend the existing contract for two months to June 30 to allow more time for negotiations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier in the year, many had anticipated writers would go on strike because of rising frictions over pay. But the pandemic, which has forced studios and unions to collaborate on safety issues, has eased labor tensions and the WGA did not seek a strike authorization vote.

Representatives for the WGA and AMPTP declined to comment late Tuesday night on the status of the talks, and it was unclear if the sides might resume negotiations Wednesday. Even without a new agreement in place, writers can continue working and both sides could agree to an extension.

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Bargaining got off to a fiery start when the WGA’s lead negotiator, David Young, clashed with Carol Lombardini, the studios’ chief negotiator, over a request to extend healthcare to members affected by the shutdown.

The SAG-AFTRA Foundation, supported by famous actors, raised its fundraising target to $12 million to help performers hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Among other demands, the union wants improvements to residual payments, which are a key part of writers’ incomes, and a bigger share of the profits being harvested through streaming. They are also seeking higher script fees and increased contributions to the union’s health plan.

Viewership on streaming platforms in April and May grew 117% over the previous year, the WGA said. Global subscription streaming revenue more than doubled over the last four years to $37 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach $62 billion in 2023, it said.

The union proposed a tiered system of bonuses linked to the number of streams on subscription streaming platforms, so that as viewership grows, so do residual payments.

“We are seeking to significantly increase the foreign residual so that it accurately reflects the value of our work in the foreign market,” the WGA told members, nothing companies like Netflix and Amazon have more international subscribers than domestic customers.

Hollywood has worked to increase diversity in its lowers ranks. But the top writing jobs in film and TV still largely go to white men.

In June, SAG-AFTRA, the industry’s biggest union, tentatively agreed to a new contract modeled on a similar agreement reached by the Directors Guild of America.

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The union, representing about 160,000 performers, broadcasters and actors, estimated the value of the proposed three-year contract at $318 million. Members will begin voting on the contract this week.


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