WGA's hard-fought resolution and Hollywood power play

27.09.2023 posted by Admin

WGA strike's path to resolution

The behind-the-scenes discussions gained momentum after the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike had been ongoing for 60 days, and actors had joined the picket lines in July. At this crucial juncture, Chris Keyser and David Goodman, co-chairs of the WGA negotiating committee, engaged in numerous conversations, both in person and over the phone, with key executives. These discussions played a pivotal role in shaping the negotiations. Ultimately, after 146 days of striking, the WGA and AMPTP reached a tentative three-year agreement on September 24.

In the lead-up to the resumption of negotiations, Keyser and Goodman had meetings with Tony Vinciquerra, chairman-CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Ted Sarandos, co-CEO of Netflix, made their own outreach efforts. Keyser also had extensive telephone conversations with Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav and Disney CEO Bob Iger, who were seen as symbols of "corporate greed" by those on the picket lines. These conversations led to the formal negotiations' resumption on September 20, and the discussions Keyser held separately with Zaslav and Iger played a significant role in convincing the management side to make a fresh move.

Unlike the expectation of a single industry figure stepping in as a peacemaker, the WGA and AMPTP came together through a hard-fought deal after weeks of private discussions among guild leaders and executives. The stalemate wasn't resolved by one meeting or ultimatum but was the result of numerous frank discussions on how to end the deadlock, which intensified after SAG-AFTRA went on strike on July 14.

Meredith Stiehm, WGA West president, and several WGA negotiating committee members with strong industry connections also contributed to the process. Throughout the strike, the WGA team maintained a disciplined approach, channeling significant discussions through Keyser and Goodman.

In August, a conversation between Keyser and Zaslav paved the way for the first in-person meeting between Keyser, Goodman, WGA West chief negotiator Ellen Stutzman, and a quartet of top executives including Iger, Zaslav, Sarandos, and NBCUniversal's Donna Langley. This group of executives played a crucial role in the final negotiations that resulted in the September 24 agreement.

Keyser emphasized that conversations with CEOs were ongoing throughout the negotiation process, particularly after SAG went on strike. However, the pressure from showrunners and writers for answers on the guild's strategy did not sway the WGA's focus or negotiating strategy, according to Goodman.

As the strike continued, plans to resume negotiations were being developed. On September 14, Keyser reached out to Zaslav, and on September 18, the WGA negotiating committee informed the membership of their imminent sit-down with the AMPTP, marking the first official use of the term "bargain" in guild communications during the strike.

The strong solidarity from guild members came at a significant cost, but it empowered the WGA to achieve most of its objectives, including new streaming residuals, AI regulations, and minimum staffing guarantees.

On September 20, there was surprise when the executive quartet appeared in person at AMPTP headquarters, signaling their readiness to negotiate. They spent eight hours discussing various details, with each executive demonstrating expertise in their respective areas. The atmosphere was described as "civil," and by Thursday afternoon, common ground was being found. Regarding residuals, studios and streamers agreed to pay performance-based bonuses based on viewer numbers in the initial 90 days on the platform.

Keyser credited the executives for being responsive and doing their homework before the negotiations resumed, particularly in addressing streaming transparency and compensation.

However, a potential setback occurred on September 21 when the management side felt optimistic about reaching a deal, but the WGA presented a surprise term sheet with unaddressed deal points. This caused frustration among the executives, who perceived it as a breach of good faith. There were also tensions over honoring sibling union strikes and waiting for SAG-AFTRA to reach a deal before returning to work.

Negotiations resumed on September 22, with the official deadline approaching on September 24. While progress was made, concerns remained about AI language and the wording of the "best and final offer" presented by management.

Ultimately, the deal was reached on September 24, and WGA members were urged to ratify it during a seven-day voting period ending on October 9. Despite the challenges and uncertainties, a tentative contract was established, offering a resolution to the industry's turmoil, shaped by the rise of streaming and the impacts of COVID-19.

In a somewhat poetic twist, the news of the deal coincided with a chance encounter between Disney's Bob Iger and musician Paul McCartney, with Iger remarking that the town had "averted serious damage." Both management and labor agreed that the strike had put pressure on companies to reach a deal, and ultimately, the WGA's exercise of its collective power had led to this resolution.
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