Writers Guild Pushes for Talks With Individual Agencies Amid Uncertainty

Amid growing uncertainty over the Writers Guild of America’s standoff with agents, the WGA has asked the nine biggest individual agencies to begin bargaining.

The WGA’s negotiating committee made the announcement in a message to members Thursday on the heels of UTA suing the guild for alleged abuse of its collective bargaining authority and engaging in an unlawful “power grab.” WME filed a similar suit against the WGA on June 24.

The WGA directed its 15,000 members in April to fire their agents following the major agencies’ refusal to sign onto a new Code of Conduct, which bars the agencies from collecting packaging fees and from owning interests in production companies. The union argues that the fees create an unlawful conflict of interest and it’s persuaded about 70 smaller agencies to sign the code.

Negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents have been futile, collapsing twice — first on April 12 and again on June 7. WGA West president David Goodman announced on June 20 that the guild would only negotiate with WME, CAA, UTA, ICM Partners, Paradigm, Gersh, APA, Rothman Brecher and Kaplan Stahler.

“We are making this offer despite the fact that every one of the eight member agencies of the ATA ‘bargaining’ committee has rejected the offer we made last week to meet individually and discuss this new proposal,” the negotiating committee said Thursday.

“The guild remains determined to move the negotiation process forward,” the committee said. “Therefore, today we sent a new proposal to each formerly-franchised agency and reiterated our offer to meet to discuss any concerns they might have.”

The WGA said the new proposal has significant changes, including an offer of a contract instead of a Code of Conduct, giving either party the right to re-open the agreement with at least 90 days’ notice prior to its termination date. The proposal also allows agencies to represent producers that do not employ writers and simplified the requirement of notice to the WGA of writer commencement.

The agents’ most recent offer would have given writers up to 2% of the packaging fees after the television show became profitable. In packaging deals, writers forego having to pay agents a 10% commission.

The WGA committee said in its message to members that it will allow agencies for make packaging agreements for another year in order to transition to a 10% commission model. It also said it will address the UTA and WME antitrust lawsuits on Friday.

“But make no mistake,” the committee added. “Writers are in no fashion intimidated by these actions; tomorrow we will inform you of the Guild’s response to the agencies’ lawsuits and collusive behavior. The member survey regarding the agency campaign will be sent to you tomorrow.”

It’s unlikely that UTA or WME will be able to obtain a court order against the WGA to stop using the Code of Conduct for at least several months, so the current stalemate will probably continue through the summer.