This Just In Thursday, February 7, 2008:
Update: Striking writers will convene in meetings on both coasts on Saturday. The entire membership of the Writers Guide East and West are being called together to what? We think to give a vote on ratifying the contract. Some prime time shows are starting to gear up, calling crew members back to work. As of today, an insider at CBS's Criminal Minds said they were going back to work next week. Although the WGA and the AMPTP are remaining mum, and speculation is staying on the cautious side, I have a sneaking suspicion the strike will come to an end very soon. LMS
Update #2: Michael Eisner, former head of Disney, said tonight on CNBC's Fast Money program that "The strike is over." Thanks CL for the heads up.
After a three-month plus walkout by the Writer’s Guild of America, a cacophony of mixed signals, false starts, contract talk stalemates and an ever increasing discontent among the rank and file of the entertainment industry, it appears that the WGA and the AMPTP (Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers) may have finally resolved their differences.
Based on information provided by those who are close to both sides of the negotiations, but who have requested anonymity due to a press blackout, the two sides may have finally agreed to agree.
The strike began November 5, 2007 and after two and a half months of making no headway in contract talks, the AMPTP instead turned it’s energies to negotiating the new Directors Guild contract. The current DGA contract expires in June 2008.
From what Soapdom has gleaned, the DGA apparently came to the table extremely prepared. They sought after and financed a million-dollar study that attempted to project the future. As a result, they were allegedly much more on their game than the WGA to back up their arguments where the internet and new media is concerned. It is also presumed that the DGA wields more weight and power in Hollywood than the WGA, or so I’m told.
After a period of “informal talks,” the DGA and the AMPTP met at the bargaining table formerly and agreed to the new contract in just six days. Yup, you heard right. Six days. Count them. 1,2,3,4,5 and 6!
Everyone in Hollywood breathed a sigh of relief. With the writers on strike, television production -- and most film production -- came to a screeching halt in mid-to-late November 2007. With many below the line industry workers at risk of losing their homes thanks to the lack of a pay check for over 12 weeks, all hoped that the DGA deal would inspire the writers and producers to get back to the table. That’s exactly what happened.
With the DGA deal used as a benchmark, the WGA and the AMPTP got back to negotiating, but informally. The two sides agreed to and were granted a press blackout. All we knew was talks were happening. The educated rumors of the end to the strike have come now as a result of these informal talks.
If the rumors are true, what’s the next step?
The next thing would be for the WGA and the AMPTP to reconvene formal talks. The strike resolution would be announced during the formal talks. Then, the executive board of the WGA would have to agree formerly to the contract as negotiated during the formal strike talks. Once they agreed, normally, the vote would be put to the union membership to “ratify” the new contract.
However, with everyone antsy as heck to get back to work, writers included, it is presumed that the okay to return to the trenches would occur after the executive board of the WGA agreed to the contract and not even wait for the membership to officially ratify it – which takes additional time. That step will probably still occur, but it would almost be an afterthought.
Bottom line. Some in Hollywood are speculating that and end to the strike could happen as soon as the end of this week.
How the Soap Operas Have Been Affected by the Strike
As mentioned above, the writer’s strike shut down prime time television production (except, of course for reality TV), most film production, much of pilot season, caused the severe scaling down of the Golden Globe Awards, etc. Not only were writers out of work, so was the rest of the town.
But soap operas did not shut down. Even though their writers were striking, in most cases, the show must go on and did.
But how? Who is writing for the soaps?
Guiding Light had it totally covered. With their new production model about to launch, they were forced to write scripts far in advance so that they could begin shooting on location without interruption. GL had months of scripts banked. GL lucked out.
On some of the other soaps, writers who are members of the Writers Guild went what is called “financial core.” (For more info on exactly what financial core is, see the addendum at the end of this article.) It was rumored early on that all the writers on the Young and the Restless chose financial core status, but as it turned out, only one did. Claiming financial core status, writers could continue to write on their soaps, still maintain an affiliation with the WGA, and not be considered scabs.
Even if a show was able to maintain one or two writers with the financial core status, that still wasn’t enough to meet the demands of soap opera writing. Who else filled in? On some shows, anyone who worked on the show in some other capacity, like a production assistant, or a production coordinator, may have been recruited to start writing scripts.
Additionally, as much of the writing is submitted via email these days, west coast soaps called striking writers from east coast soaps (and vice versa, by the way) and tried to entice them to write anonymously – submitting material electronically and not crossing any picket lines. With attractive fees being offered, Soapdom has to assume that some writers, who would never agree to be identified, probably did just that.
During the last writers strike in 1988, one production company office worker was immediately promoted to “head writer.” She had no soap writing experience, but she new the show and the show was desperate. Her salary went from something like $150/week to $2500 per week as head writer in 1988. She kept the position for 5 months and when the 22-week old strike ended, she went back to her $150/week production job.
With this combination of experienced and inexperienced pinch hitters writing out of their league, has soap storytelling been affected? Probably yes. I’ve seen some things occurring on soaps that are throw backs to years gone by. Not that these are poor plot lines, but they are probably not ones that the current WGA writing staff would include in this day and age. Has anything out of the ordinary been popping up on your favorite soap? If so, write it off to the strike. But before you do, tell me what it is in the comments below.
As you can imagine, it’s been far from a walk in the park for the actors. One popular actor on an east coast soap told Soapdom, “things have been a mess with this writers strike. We all hope it ends soon.” A source close to one west coast actor told Soapdom that he typically gets a script written by someone who is either not a real soap writer, or a writer from another show trying to write his show anonymously, and has to re-work all his dialog so that it still sounds like his character.
The end of the writers strike would mean that the real writing staffs of all the soaps would return and gear up the storytelling once again. One soap opera writer told the NY Daily News that they were not looking forward to returning, however, as the order of business would be to pick up all the pieces the pinch hitters left behind.
What about prime time, pilots, and the Academy Awards?
With a resolution to the strike on the horizon, prime time drama series could be back up in production in a matter of weeks. Dick Wolf, creator of the Law & Order franchise, said he could have all three of his shows in production within three weeks. An insider on NBC’s Chuck, noted that one script was almost finished before the strike and it would take maybe two weeks to get back into production to shoot it. Pilot season would be somewhat salvaged, although quite truncated, but at least there would still be a fall TV season. Far as Hollywood’s greatest night, the Academy Awards would go off star studded and red carpeted as ever.
Keep your ears tuned to Soapdom and the other news channels. Odds are we’ll be getting good news this week.
Addendum: Here are some questions asked by writers who were considering going financial core.
What happens if I resign from the WGA?
After you resign from the WGA, you will be considered a “financial core” member of the WGA, which means that your only obligation to the union is to pay uniform union dues and initiation fees during the term of the WGA Agreement. In that case, the WGA cannot fine or coerce you for working during a strike. Moreover, you will not lose any rights under the Minimum Basic Agreement, including residuals and pension and health benefits. The WGA must also continue to represent you fairly in bargaining and grievance handling whether or not you are a full WGA member. As a “financial core” member, you may not be able to engage in certain union activities such as attending union meetings and voting in union elections or ratifications.
Can the WGA prohibit me from resigning during a strike?
No. The National Labor Relations Act provides that you may resign at any time by giving written notice to your union.
After a strike, can the WGA prevent me from working if I resigned?
Absolutely not. The National Labor Relations Act guarantees that if you resign from the WGA and go to “financial core” status you have the right to continue to work and your only obligation will be to pay those union dues and initiation fees which are uniformly imposed on all workers during the term of the Minimum Basic Agreement.
How does someone resign from the WGA?
The WGA Constitution provides the following procedure: “[The resignation must be] tendered in writing, signed by the member, and personally delivered to and receipted for by an officer or employee of the Guild or mailed by certified or registered mail to the Board of Directors.” (Article IV(F)). You should be aware that your resignation does not become effective until it is received by the union. It makes sense to keep a receipt for your records and protection.
If I am not a WGA member and write during a strike, am I banned from working in the WGA jurisdiction forever?
WGA may deny, in the future, full membership to non-members who work during a strike. However, they may not deny “financial core” membership. As a member who went “financial core,” you are entitled to all the benefits of the collective bargaining agreement, including the exact same WGA representation in any grievance and the exact same pension and health plan rights. Also, as a “financial core” member, the WGA cannot fine or coerce you for working during a strike.
More on Financial Core
What does "FINANCIAL CORE" status mean? One actor explains:
I hold Financial Core membership in both AFTRA and SAG, and am fully covered by union contracts and benefits when doing union jobs. "Financial core status" talent pays the portion of dues that covers the "financial core" of union activities, but not the portion covering any political activities the unions may undertake.
Since Financial Core members do not carry a union card, vote in union elections or run for union office, we can also accept non-union work as well. While Financial Core status is not yet widely known, it is becoming more so. Its legality is recognized in accordance with the United States Supreme Court decision, "CWA v. Beck," of June 29, 1988, and applies to all unions, not just AFTRA and SAG.
Marla J said:
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