AMPTP and WGA Talks Break Down

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Look for even more reality shows (i.e. series that don’t need scripts) in the new year, as the talks between the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) and Writers Guild of America (WGA) took a nose-dive on Friday, with each side releasing statements regarding what happened. The WGA’s strike has gone on for five weeks now and has sidelined many primetime and late-night TV shows. It is no doubt starting to affect many feature films that are scheduled to be released in 2009 now as well.

Here is Friday’s statement from the AMPTP:

We’re disappointed to report that talks between the AMPTP and WGA have broken down yet again. Quite frankly, we’re puzzled and disheartened by an ongoing WGA negotiating strategy that seems designed to delay or derail talks rather than facilitate an end to this strike. Union negotiators in our industry have successfully concluded 306 major agreements with the AMPTP since its inception in 1982. The WGA organizers sitting across the table from us have never concluded even one industry accord.

We believe our New Economic Partnership proposal, which would increase the average working writer’s salary to more than $230,000 a year, makes it possible to find common ground. And we have proved over the last five months that we want writers to participate in producers’ revenues, including in theatrical and television streaming, as well as other areas of new media. However, under no circumstances will we knowingly participate in the destruction of this business.

While the WGA’s organizers can clearly stage rallies, concerts and mock exorcisms, we have serious concerns about whether they’re capable of reaching reasonable compromises that are in the best interests of our entire industry. It is now absolutely clear that the WGA’s organizers are determined to advance their own political ideologies and personal agendas at the expense of working writers and every other working person who depends on our industry for their livelihoods.

Instead of negotiating, the WGA organizers have made unreasonable demands that are roadblocks to real progress:

– They demand full control over reality television and animation. In other words, they want us to make membership in their union mandatory to work in this industry – even though thousands of people in reality and animation have already chosen not to join the WGA.

– They demand restrictions designed to prevent networks from airing any reality programs unless they are produced under terms in keeping with the WGA agreement. This would apply even to producers who are not associated with the Guild. Their proposal artificially limits competition and most likely would not withstand legal challenge.

– The WGA organizers are demanding the right to ignore their bargained “no strike” provision, allowing them to join in strikes of other labor organizations.

– Their proposal for Internet compensation could actually cost producers more than they receive in revenues, thereby dooming the Internet media business before it ever gets started.

– They insist that writers receive a piece of advertising revenue – even though the producers that pay them don’t receive any of this revenue in the first place.

– They want a third party to set an artificial value on transactions, rather that allowing the market to determine the worth of each transaction. This would result in producers having to pay residuals on money that the producers never even received.

These are the terms the WGA organizers demand for ending the strike – money that doesn’t exist, restrictions that are legally dubious, and control over people who have refused to join their union.

Besides betraying a fundamental misunderstanding of the economics of new media, such as a streaming proposal that would require us to give them more money than we make ourselves, the WGA organizers are on an ideological mission far removed from the interests of their members.

Their Quixotic pursuit of radical demands led them to begin this strike, and now has caused this breakdown in negotiations. We hope that the WGA will come back to this table with a rational plan that can lead us to a fair and equitable resolution to a strike that is causing so much distress for so many people in our industry and community.

The WGA had this to say:

WGA Negotiating Committee Chair John F. Bowman, on behalf of the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) and the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), has issued the following message regarding Contract 2007 negotiations:

Today, after three days of discussions, the AMPTP came back to us with a proposal that included a total rejection of our proposal on Internet streaming of December 3.

They are holding to their offer of a $250 fixed residual for unlimited one year streaming after a six-week window of free use. They still insist on the DVD rate for Internet downloads.

They refuse to cover original material made for new media.

This offer was accompanied by an ultimatum: the AMPTP demands we give up several of our proposals, including Fair Market Value (our protection against vertical integration and self-dealing), animation, reality, and, most crucially, any proposal that uses distributor’s gross as a basis for residuals. This would require us to concede most of our Internet proposal as a precondition for continued bargaining. The AMPTP insists we let them do to the Internet what they did to home video.

We received a similar ultimatum through back channels prior to the discussions of November 4. At that time, we were assured that if we took DVD’s off the table, we would get a fair offer on new media issues. That offer never materialized.

We reject the idea of an ultimatum. Although a number of items we have on the table are negotiable, we cannot be forced to bargain with ourselves. The AMPTP has many proposals on the table that are unacceptable to writers, but we have never delivered ultimatums.

As we prepared our counter-offer, at 6:05 p.m., Nick Counter came and said to us, in the mediator’s presence: “We are leaving. When you write us a letter saying you will take all these items off the table, we will reschedule negotiations with you.” Within minutes, the AMPTP had posted a lengthy statement announcing the breakdown of negotiations.

We remain ready and willing to negotiate, no matter how intransigent our bargaining partners are, because the stakes are simply too high. We were prepared to counter their proposal tonight, and when any of them are ready to return to the table, we’re here, ready to make a fair deal.

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