WGA Members OK New Contract

Members of the Writers Guild of America have approved their new industry contract by a wide margin, endorsing a strategy that emphasized the health plan over the likely strike issue of DVD residuals,

LOS ANGELES (The Hollywood Reporter) -- Members of the Writers Guild of America have approved their new industry contract by a wide margin, endorsing a strategy that emphasized the health plan over the likely strike issue of DVD residuals, the union said Nov. 23.

The membership of the WGA West and WGA East voted 74% in favor to accept the three-year Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA) with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. While not all of the 11,000 members are eligible to vote, the turnout was still low, with just 2,247 returning ballots. Support for the contract was higher in the Western division (77%) than the Eastern (59%).

The contract is said to be worth $58 million, almost double what the industry offered in June, prompting the writers to work without a contract for four months. In total dollars, the new MBA is the richest WGA contract ever and 40% better than the deal reached in 2001, union officials said. The terms took effect retroactively Nov. 1.

"We were able to get a very good deal that addresses all of our health-care needs in spite of the spiral of inflation," WGA West president Daniel Petrie Jr. said. "Members recognized that in spite of things like DVD residuals -- which were so important to us and we weren't able to get -- this is still a good deal for writers and a hard-fought one."

The ratification turned back an effort by four of the union's negotiators to defeat the proposal on grounds that it did not drive a hard enough bargain on residuals and jurisdiction. Had the members rejected the contract, it would have forced the union and AMPTP back to the bargaining table and disrupted plans for SAG-AFTRA to begin negotiating a new contract on about Dec. 2.

The dissenting board members -- John Auerbach and Stephen Schiff of WGA East and Robert King and David Weiss of WGA West -- have since joined 10 other negotiators in forming a new group, WGA Writers United, as an informal caucus to foster member activism across the traditional East-West divide and embolden the union in contract negotiations.

They objected to the strategy of letting the old deal expire in May and then waiting to see how the Directors Guild of America fared on DVD residuals in the face of the industry's flat-out refusal to adjust the 20-year-old home video formula.

The DGA concluded that the DVD fight wasn't worth striking over and took a lucrative health-care package instead. The WGA was then given a two-day window to reach a deal, by which time the bargaining pattern had been set.

Most of the negotiators who opposed the current deal were from WGA East, which was the same region that voted down the 1997 contract, causing it to fail by 16 votes and force the union to reopen negotiations.

The $58 million package was based on $37 million in health gains, $20 million in higher minimums and $1 million in added pay TV residuals.

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