Writers' Guild of America East and WGA West have resolved decades of rifts and jurisdictional squabbles, including a recent dues dispute, as their new presidents make good on promises to focus on more

LOS ANGELES (The Hollywood Reporter) -- Writers' Guild of America East and WGA West have resolved decades of rifts and jurisdictional squabbles, including a recent dues dispute, as their new presidents make good on promises to focus on more pressing matters like organizing, it was announced Oct. 31.

The tentative agreement, reached during a high-level meeting in San Francisco on Oct. 22-23, covers roughly two dozen constitutional and other matters, including the dues dispute that drove the unions to sue each other.

The agreement was unanimously accepted by the WGAW Board and WGAE's Council. Portions of the agreement will amend the constitutions of each union as well as their affiliation agreement, requiring member approval.

"We really do feel it's a new day and a new relationship, and we're excited about working together in the future," WGAE president Chris Albers said.

Added WGAW president Patric Verrone: "We look at this as the two unions working together in the way we would like to work with all of our sister unions. We're anticipating that this is both a template and an example of how we intend to work together going forward."

Albers and Verrone, whose slates swept the recent elections, each campaigned on the need to end the infighting for the sake of growing jurisdiction and bargaining power.

The settlement also calls for the two unions to coordinate their organizing efforts. The breakthrough comes a month after WGAW replaced executive director John McLean with organizing director David Young.

After weeks of conference calls, the New York- and Los Angeles-based unions selected San Francisco to hold settlement talks.

"Some of the discussions were extremely difficult because, on certain issues, our unions have taken firm, incompatible positions that date back decades," Albers and Verrone said in a letter to members Monday. "Tough compromises needed to be made and indeed they were -- by both sides."

In resolving the dues dispute, WGA East agreed to make annual payments for the member services the West has been providing without compensation. The first-year payment will be about $500,000, or roughly half of what the West wanted when the dispute went public in February.

That fight only highlighted the awkward relationship between the two unions under their 1954 affiliation agreement.

The West cited the agreement in insisting that Eastern-based feature writers were required to share their dues with the West, or about $500,000 annually. Another $500,000 was sought to cover the costs of managing credit arbitrations and other services.

Leaders in the East called it a "virtual shakedown," while those in the West insisted it was more about jurisdiction than money. The two sides were also unable to agree on how to resolve the crisis under a 2003 dispute-resolution agreement.

Many of these issues were addressed in the San Francisco talks.

Several problems relating to member jurisdiction were resolved by drawing a hard line between East and West membership, using the existing distinction of the Mississippi River as the dividing line. Some members will be required to switch membership, depending on where they spend the majority of their time.

Foreign members living in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Eastern Canada will belong to WGAE, while those living in Western Canada and the rest of the world belong to the West.

The leaders separately agreed to subject all future disputes to immediate arbitration and to resume the biannual meetings of the National Council, which includes members of both unions. Joint meetings will now be scheduled at times convenient to both sides and joint committees will have no fewer than one-third of their members from each union.

WGA East and West also agreed to develop a common voting standard for contracts and other joint issues. They currently have different rules on who is eligible to vote.

It was further agreed that the flow of information between the unions will resume, including the sharing of credits, waiver requests, residuals, contracts, grievances and arbitrations.

The settlement also enables the unions to develop a national organizing strategy as they seek to extend jurisdiction in reality TV, animation, news, basic cable, nonfiction, videogames and the Internet.

In addition to Verrone, board members Tom Schulman, Phil Robinson and Aaron Mendelsohn represented WGAW, while Albers was joined by WGAE VP Tom Fontana, secretary-treasurer Gail Lee and council member Warren Leight.

"This settlement leaves both of our unions strong and healthy," Albers and Verrone said. "Finally, we can show management what two such unions can do when they join together and fight with one voice. We are all in this together."