Inside the WGA-AMPTP Negotiating Room

A succinct and, overall, quite fair report on the negotiation process in the 2017 WGA-AMPTP contract negotiations from one of H’wood’s favorite trade mags:

by Cynthia Littleton

The dam broke at about 10:30 p.m. on Monday night. With 90 minutes to go to the strike deadline, the WGA and major studios began to find their way to the compromises that had been elusive during the previous five days of contract negotiations.

By 12:15 a.m. Tuesday, after a break for caucusing, the sides returned to the big table at the Sherman Oaks headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to declare that the deal was done.

What tipped the scales? From the WGA’s perspective, it was the pressure of the ticking clock and the unquestionable demonstrations of unity among guild members to strike if the leadership didn’t feel like they were being offered a fair deal.

From the view of the AMPTP, the WGA’s strategy was one of brinksmanship. With the threat of a walkout hanging over the room, the WGA, led by chief negotiator David Young, used their leverage to successfully push the studios for incremental gains nearly to the last minute before settling. Young once again earned the admiration of many members for his steely resolve and confidence that the guild was on the right course, even if it meant a work stoppage, to secure justified gains for writers.

Sources close to the situation credited the AMPTP, led by president Carol Lombardini, with the tactical decision to not throw down the gauntlet of a last, best and final offer. The absence of such take-it-or-leave-it pressure allowed the sides to keep talking well into the night, a process that helped both camps move toward common ground. The desire to avoid the disruption and financial losses incurred a decade ago during the 100-day WGA strike from November 2007-February 2008 was also a motivating factor for both sides.

In the heat of the negotiations, sources on both sides of the table noted the leadership demonstrated by Christopher Keyser, who co-chaired the negotiating committee along with Billy Ray and Chip Johannessen. Keyser, a veteran showrunner who served as president of the WGA West from 2011-2015, is said to have made an eloquent final pitch for why the guild was pushing so hard for a codified family leave plan in the master WGA contract. He cited the hardship that job insecurity has on young writers in particular when starting a family. In the end, a source said the family leave agreement does not give TV writers paid time off but does guarantee for the first time that they will be able to return to a job after up to eight unpaid weeks off, as long as the series remains in production.

Sources close to the situation also credited the high level of engagement in the talks by top industry leaders — including CBS Corp. chairman Leslie Moonves, Warner Bros. chairman-CEO Kevin Tsujihara, Fox Networks Group’s Peter Rice and Disney/ABC TV’s Ben Sherwood – in providing the will for AMPTP negotiators to address the most pressing issues raised by the WGA. Throughout the talks, Lombardini with the support of the CEOs gradually met a significant number of the WGA’s most urgent demands in order to neuter them as strike-worthy issues. The studio chiefs weren’t thrilled about writing a big check — said to be about $90 million — to shore up the WGA’s over-taxed health plan, but they knew that was a central issue for writers at all levels that would have fueled strike sentiment had it been ignored….

Read it all at Variety

Read another view – more entertaining, maybe, but who can tell these days? – at SFGate