Wednesday, December 19, 2007

WGA Strike: A More Optimistic Scenario

Here's a more optimistic scenario than my recent prediction. It's all speculation, but maybe this is a pathway to a solution:

1. The DGA does a deal on new media residuals that's close to what the WGA wants (due in part to pressure from the WGA, as well as, of course, due to its own hard work, leverage and research), but not quite what the WGA is looking for.

2. WGA leadership rejects the DGA deal as a template, but returns to the bargaining table, perhaps by conceding on reality, animation and sympathy strikes.

3. SAG leadership, meanwhile, rejects the DGA deal even more strenuously.

4. The WGA achieves a slight improvement in the new media formulas, in part by pointing out that SAG will be even harder for the AMPTP to deal with. The WGA concedes on reality, animation and sympathy strikes (if it hadn't already in step 2), and also confidentially promises to sell the new media deal to SAG leadership. See also my suggested resolution for other deal points. The AMPTP concedes on other issues to close a deal and avoid the horror show of two guilds on strike.

5. The DGA would probably have a "favored nations" clause in its deal requiring the AMPTP to offer it any improved deal. So, the AMPTP grants the DGA, as well as SAG, the benefit of the improved new media formula.

This scenario allows everyone to claim victory and save face - the DGA gets to make the deal, the WGA gets to improve on it, SAG gets to help close the new media deal and also avoid a strike, and the AMPTP gets significant concessions. Here's hoping.

Tip of the hat to the anonymous friend who helped me brainstorm this scenario.

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post today.


  1. Here's a current, if not even more optimistic scenario:
    David Letterman's move to negotiate a deal that is very favorable to writers. According to John Bowman, stated in the LA Times today 12/20/07, other (smaller) Companies are following suit. The Domino effect has begun, prompting the Big 8 to make deals w/ the WGA.

    PS: What's your take on the ever dreaded "Force Majeure"? Will the Hyphenates file suits in return?

  2. The big 8 are so much bigger than the other companies that I'm not sure there will be a domino effect.

    I'm not sure what basis the hyphenates and studio-based producers would have for filing suit. The force majeure provisions tend to be pretty straightforward.

  3. Jonathan Handel said...

    "The big 8 are so much bigger than the other companies that I'm not sure there will be a domino effect."

    Here's hoping.

    Jonathan Handel said...
    "I'm not sure what basis the hyphenates and studio-based producers would have for filing suit. The force majeure provisions tend to be pretty straightforward."

    But the "an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties such as war, strike, riot, crime, act of God (e.g., flooding, earthquake, volcano), prevents one or both parties from fulfilling their obligations under the contract" stipulation could be disputed since the AMPTP refused to negotiate, thus prolonging the strike past the 6 week deadline, thus malfeasance can be claimed.

    Thanks for your informed, level headed analysis of this ugly mess.

  4. Force Majeure has already been happening. In some companies (Fox), it happened right away. In others, it has been slowly unwinding. Universal just told their post production sound people that their contracts will no longer be honored after January 2. And that's not an isolated incident, just an example.

    The more likely negotiation scenario is that the DGA will take about 2 months to work out a new contract with the AMPTP, given all the math and the other issues to be dealt with. These things simply don't happen in five minutes. They need time to negotiate. By the time the DGA talks are done, it will be mid-March, at which point SAG should have put its Negcomm together and prepared its requests. If the DGA comes up with a good enough formula, SAG will go with it (or with the usual variation - DGA gets 4 cents, SAG gets 12, etc.)

    Given a mid-March timetable to complete the DGA contract, the current TV season will already be effectively over. So there would be no pressing need to talk to the WGA before making a deal with SAG, and it's more likely that the AMPTP will be intent on teaching the WGA not to repeat the mistakes it has made here. The WGA picketing of the Golden Globes and the Oscars will be consistent with their actions so far, but may have the unintended result of convincing the AMPTP to be even tougher with the WGA.

    In the event of SAG starting its talks in late March, those will take another 2 months, just like the DGA. That takes us into late May or early June, at which point the WGA will be forced to drop those 6 issues so they can get a version of the DGA deal. All of this is unfortunate, and was avoidable, but as the saying goes, these things seem to happen about every 20 years. After this one, we won't see another one for a long time.

  5. I've written a new proposal on what the WGA's next move should be. The basis is this:

    End the strike.

    Before you get the wrong idea, this is not a "give up" measure. It's not a proclamation that the war is over.

    It's a cease-fire.

    WGA should deliver their latest counter-proposal (the one they they say was nearly finished when the AMPTP walked out of the negotiations) to the Mediator, along with the most enticing offer possible:

    "Come back to the table, and we'll conditionally call off the strike."

    One of the conditions is that AMPTP negotiate with WGA before DGA. Another is that the WGA can re-authorize the strike at any time.

    As a general rule, the threat of a strike gives labor more leverage than does the strike itself.

    By calling a cease-fire, the Guild would regain that leverage, they would have made the ultimate good-faith bargaining move, they would be the ones calling the shots, and they would again have the re-employed crew on their side.

    More details are available at

  6. At this point, there really isn't any step the WGA can do to end this until after the DGA sets the new contract pattern. Their last moment of leverage was on December 7, as the mediator tried to tell them. Had they done something at that time, they might already have a new contract and have set the pattern for the other guilds, as was their intention in going out early. Instead, they're now in a position where the AMPTP no longer needs or wants to talk to them. The latest moves (threatening to picket the awards shows, selectively making an interim contract with Letterman, filing an NLRB complaint, etc) seem to be borne from the desperation that nobody on the other side is affected by their behavior. Even if they declared a "cease fire", the AMPTP would still refuse to talk to them until they obediently take the 6 items off the table as they were instructed on December 7, and then send a polite letter to the AMPTP asking to resume negotiations.