Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hollywood Labor’s Long-Term Future: More Unrest

After a year and a half of Hollywood labor turmoil, we’re finally nearing a SAG deal and the end of this negotiating cycle. Will this be the beginning of a new era of labor peace in the industry?

Unfortunately not. Silicon Valley is not going to suddenly take an Ambien and stop innovating. That means that a scant two years from now, when negotiations for 2011 renewals of the guild and union contracts begin, negotiators will be challenged with even newer forms of “new media,” new business models, and new economic realities.

Thus, the cycle of anxiety, distrust and failed bargaining may begin again. And so on when those renewals expire three years later, and again three years after that, and so forth. Hollywood is now yoked to the computer, Internet and consumer electronics industries, all of which evolve at breakneck speed, dragging slower-moving Hollywood along like a clumsy partner in a three-legged race. That has toxic consequences for the entertainment industry’s labor relations, including, notably, an increased risk of strikes, stalemates and slowdowns.

What to do? I suggest that Hollywood guilds, unions and management form a joint New Media Working Group. This body should have members from management and from the Writers Guild (WGA), Directors Guild (DGA), Screen Actors Guild (SAG), AFTRA, IATSE, and management. Perhaps the AFM (musicians union) should be included as well; I don’t know enough about that union to venture an opinion.

The function of the Working Group would be to analyze and report on developments in new media and the possible resulting effect on existing labor agreements and relationships. The goal would be to track those changes on an ongoing basis and generate various options for addressing them in the collective bargaining agreements.

By doing this work on an ongoing basis, it might be possible to reduce the paroxysms of last-minute activity that characterize the negotiating process today. And, by conducting this work jointly, it might be possible to bring the various unions, and management, onto the same page in their subsequent negotiations: that is, to ensure that everyone has a common knowledge base from which to work.

To do its work, the committee should meet quarterly or even monthly. It will need research support (sharing of data) from all parties, and a budget for purchase of research reports and other such expenses, consultants as necessary, and perhaps a staff person who would travel regularly to Silicon Valley. The committee would build relationships with major players and information sources—agencies, attorneys, other guilds, academics, research firms, tech companies, and the like.

Silicon Valley will continue to innovate, and new media will continue to evolve. Yet, when it comes to guild agreements, the entertainment industry seems content to snooze between contract renewals. Isn’t it time to try a different approach?

Portions of this article previously appeared December 14, 2007, as Memo to DGA - Please Propose a Tri-Guild New Media Adjustment Committee.


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  1. Wow. What an incredibly fantastic and practical idea. This should be ventured and coordinated immediately.

  2. By far the most important thing you've said was to include 'management' in the working group. This is something I suggested eight months ago. The New Media negotiation should have been taken out of the contract talks altogether.

    It is an area of dispute that has moved further and further from the traditional W & W conditions and closer and closer into the realm of speculation that getting agreement on the particulars has become a roadblock for the usual suspects.

    This is a brand new business venture that needs to discover a working model that allows all sides to prosper. It should be dealt with as such and not confined to the heated crucible of contract negotiations. It needs media wizards, lawyers, tech geeks and business consultants from all concerned to create an experimental proposal that operates fluidly as breakthroughs occur.

    We need to take advantage of the technology w/o being taken advantage of by the management. And I don't think that both those conditions will be satisfied in the polarizing atmosphere of the current relationship we have with the AMPTP. We have to think outside the contract.

  3. Jonathan: I'm running for WGA board this year and have proposed a similar intra-guild group in my Candidate's statment. Hope you won't mind if I link to your extremely well-written and well-thought out presentation here as a more complete picture of how that might work?
    Jed Weintrob