The Writers Guild Of America, West, just issued this statement to answer “the concerted effort underway by the AMPTP and some in the press to minimize the success of our strike” which officially ended with the ratiication of the proposed Theatrical and Television Basic Agreement on February 26, 2008. In light of the impasses and concessions currently happening to SAG and IATSE’s Hollywood Locals in their leadership’s negotiations with Big Media’s bargainers, I think this WGA statement reminds showbiz guild members that a union that stays publicly unified can stare down the overwhelming power of the studios and networks. Then it can achieve, if not all its goals, many of those most vital to the next wave of new technology and the labor force who will create, act and work in it now and well into the future. This weekend, I will be publishing various writers’ assessments of what the WGA accomplished during its 100-day strike for financial survival:

February 27, 2009
Dear WGAW Member:

One year ago this week an overwhelming majority of the WGA membership voted in favor of ratifying a new three-year contract. Today there is a concerted effort underway by the AMPTP and some in the press to minimize the success of our strike, calling it “unnecessary” and “self-destructive.” I’d like to set the record straight.

Our current contract was the result of a months-long effort to negotiate in good faith with the companies, who unfortunately forced us into a 100-day strike. The struggle was marked by a high degree of unity among writers — television and screen, broadcast and cable, blockbusters and indie film. Thousands of you marched, picketed and blogged, and won the solidarity and support of union members, fans and the general public, in the US and around the world.

We didn’t achieve everything we wanted – we never do – but we achieved our most important objectives, something we hadn’t done for decades. Over the past 20-plus years the companies have tried to use every important development in the industry – be it distribution technology or reuse method – to weaken our strategic and financial position. A difficult strike in 1985 led to a rollback on home video. This has never been corrected and has cost writers about $1.5 billion in lost residual income. We could not get global jurisdiction of scripted programming on basic cable, and to this day we are still fighting with the companies to cover many cable shows. Genres like reality and animation, where the WGA lacks coverage, have grown into a large portion of the worldwide market and are now significant areas of non-Guild production.

This difficult history has tended to diminish the power of writers, both economically and creatively, as control of the industry has concentrated in the hands of a few AMPTP companies who bargain hard and bargain together. And the other Hollywood guilds and unions have suffered the same fate.

All this set the stage for our negotiations in 2007. After 20 years of being told, misleadingly, that the studios would give us our fair share once any new market developed, writers decided to take a stand for what they deserved. While the studios demanded that we choose between a meaningless “study” of New Media or the gutting of our livelihoods through profit-based residuals, our Negotiating Committee stuck to three fundamental goals:

– Jurisdiction over original New Media production
– Good residuals for reuse of traditional TV and film product on the Internet: “If they get paid, we get paid”
– Access to New Media contracts as well as language requiring fair market value for related party transactions

In the end, we got all three. Below is a comparison of the AMPTP positions on key issues on two dates: the day we struck and the day we made the deal. Keep in mind that when the AMPTP broke off negotiations with us on December 7th they had made virtually no changes to their November 4th offer. There is no doubt the AMPTP knew the importance of these issues, and they incurred real pain in a fruitless attempt to apply their formulas of the past 20 years to new media.

Key Contract Terms Before and After the Strike

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As the companies begin producing original product for the Internet, they must provide coverage for WGA members or non-members who are working on projects with significant budgets. If made-for New Media replaces old media or the companies try to use it as a “pilot sandbox,” it’s covered.

The victory of jurisdiction over New Media was hard fought because the companies had hoped to keep that production non-Guild. While original New Media content is still in the early stages of development, the establishment of WGA jurisdiction is essential. The most important battles in American labor history, including the famous GM sit-down strike of 1937, were over this issue: jurisdiction. We won this battle.

On reuse, the residuals formulas we negotiated will allow writers to benefit in the expansion of new media as a secondary market for television and feature films. Our agreement allows the companies to experiment with different forms of content delivery, but not at the expense of writers.

We also won the right to inspect the New Media deals the companies are making, including distribution statements and usage data. Transactions between related companies must meet the fair market value standard of reasonableness. These are important tools for the enforcement of our agreement and for understanding the companies’ evolving business models. This is a significant inroad into the companies’ self-dealing.

Now, does this mean that the strike created huge, immediate gains for writers? Of course not. We knew and the companies knew we were fighting for the future, for the day when the Internet replaces TV and dominates media consumption. Writers fought to avoid a repetition of recent history wherein we are told to wait to get our share until the new business model develops, then that share never comes. Everything we’ve seen since, be it Joss Whedon’s online hit Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, the decision by CBS to purchase CNET for 1.8 billion dollars, or Fox/NBC’s hulu.com, tells us that we were right and that the companies know it.

Furthermore, we improved the DGA deal in significant ways:

– The DGA won EST at 0.65 and 0.7% only for movies and TV first released in 2008. The WGA won EST at 0.65% and 0.7% for our entire library of product – although the companies are trying to renege on this, forcing us to seek arbitration.
– The DGA won only a small raise in the third year of streaming. The WGA, for the first time ever, won a formula by which the writer will be paid 2% of Distributors Gross in the third year of streaming.
– The DGA sunsetted all New Media provisions in their contract. WGA accepted no such sunset clause – we don’t want to start from zero in these hard fought areas when we go back to the bargaining table in 2011.
– In the final two days of negotiations WGA won protection of our separated rights in New Media.

In early 2007 WGAW President Patric Verrone and I sat down with Ron Moore, developer of Battlestar Galactica, who told us that this negotiation was simple. He wrote:

In my opinion, nothing is as important as the issues surrounding digital delivery of content. Nothing. In the not so distant future, literally every piece of work ever done by the Guild will be available digitally. The systems and methods of delivery will vary and change, but the central truth is that all our work is going to be converted to ones and zeroes and sent to the consumer. We have to have a very clear, very solid method of tracking and being compensated for any and all work that is delivered in this way, whether it was originally created for TV or film or directly for digital distribution. To me, it is a strike issue.

He was right. These were strike issues. Whatever their differences, our members knew he was right. We struck over these issues and won.

There is important work left to be done in future negotiations. There are windows to be closed in streaming, and budget thresholds for jurisdiction in original New Media to be eliminated. Nor can we just sit back and watch the checks roll in. The companies have been incredibly slow in reporting and paying on New Media, and we are already filing claims and taking other steps to enforce our agreement.

2008 was a tough year for everybody. The strike meant a quarter of lost earnings, and then the economy went into a severe recession followed quickly by a collapse in the financial markets. These events have caused hardship and loss of income for many people, and writers are no exception. But these difficulties don’t change the fact that writers together achieved gains that will stand the test of time.

Next time we very much hope there will be no need to strike. We believe we’ve earned a large measure of new respect from the companies and that next time both sides can bargain successfully without a strike. We will reach out to industry leaders and company CEOs and make every effort to reach a fair and reasonable agreement. But make no mistake: should the companies choose to test us, we’ll be prepared, again. Unfortunately – and responsibility for this sits squarely on the shoulders of the companies – it seems every important advance made by entertainment unions, including pension and health, credits, residuals and jurisdiction over New Media, has required a strike by either the WGA or SAG. We salute SAG’s current effort to resist the AMPTP pushing their expiration date back to June of 2012. The AMPTP is determined to continue their time-tested strategy of “divide and conquer”. We are determined to end that practice by building the unity of the entertainment unions on the basis of our common interests. We are doing everything we possibly can to hasten the day when, like the companies, multiple entertainment unions can sit down and bargain as one.

Finally, I would like to thank all our members and all those friends and members of other unions who stood in solidarity with us. They helped give us the strength to persevere through the months of sacrifice and struggle. It was a historic event, one that will not be soon forgotten, and we can all feel proud of our great effort and achievement.

David Young
WGAW Executive Director

Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.