Veteran Writers Guild of America member William Schmidt is challenging incumbent WGA West President David Goodman in the upcoming election, citing complaints with Goodman’s handling of the bitter standoff with Hollywood agents.
Schmidt, whose credits include “Yellowstone,” “Outsiders” and “Charmed,” told Variety that he disagrees with Goodman’s leadership regarding the directive for members to fire their agents if they had not signed the WGA Code of Conduct. He’s a 37-year member of the guild.
Goodman announced two weeks ago that the guild has called off negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents in favor of pursuing individual talks with nine top agencies as it enforces a total ban on packaging fees and affiliated production for agents representing guild members. No new talks have been scheduled.
“I don’t think the leadership has thought this through,” Schmidt said.
“Leadership violated the WGA Constitution by demanding that membership write letters firing their agents,” Schmidt said. “There is nothing in that Constitution, a set of rules developed by hundreds of writers over many decades, that allows such a thing. These letters must be rescinded.”
Schmidt, who served on the WGA West board in 1990-92 and on the 1988 negotiating committee, said he has not fired his agent at ICM Partners and added that he had not been disciplined by the union for failing to do so. Members of the Writers Guild of America voted overwhelmingly in March with 95% supporting tightened restrictions on their agents upon the expiration of the franchise agreement with the ATA.
Schmidt said the intent of the March vote was to give leadership the power to negotiate with the ATA, which led to the April 13 directive to fire agents if they had not signed the code.
“The expectation was that we negotiate,” he added. “We didn’t vote for a jihad against agents. We must get back to the negotiating table ASAP and hammer out a deal.”
The subsequent fallout with agents has included an April 17 suit by the WGA against the four major agencies over alleged conflicts of interest in collecting packaging fees in addition to recent suits by CAA, WME and UTA against the guild over alleged abuse of collective bargaining authority. It’s also led to managers and lawyers performing the functions of agents along with the creation of a staffing submission system by members and showrunners during the recent staffing season.
Schmidt said the current stalemate is hurting rank-and-file members of the WGA West, which represents about 9,000 members. The letters to fire agents have created “an unprecedented level of fear and mistrust.”
“The ATA action has hit writers below the showrunner level especially hard,” he added. “POC (persons of color) and women writers who finally gained a foothold in the business have seen those gains evaporate without the help of agents to fight for them. A union exists to protect its most vulnerable members. We must get back to the most basic functions of a union.”
Schmidt said that the WGA needs to adjust its strategy and emulate the tactics it used two years ago in negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
“We are not a union of industrial workers in the mid-20th century,” Schmidt added. “Our negotiations must be done with the sophistication and finesse that marked our 2017 negotiations with the AMPTP, not with the blunt instruments of labor battles gone by. We must adjust the present negotiation strategies with the ATA accordingly.”
The WGA West announced on June 21 that its negotiating committee had sought a second unidentified candidate for the presidency but that person opted not to run. Schmidt is running via petition, under which members can submit 25 member signatures by July 23.
Election results will be announced on Sept. 16. Two of the 20 candidates seeking WGA West board seats — Ayelet Waldman and Rasheed Newson — have also gone public with their concerns about the handling of the negotiations with the ATA.