WGA East Officer & Council Candidates Overwhelmingly Support Guilds Agency Campaign

Now that the WGA West election is over – with President David A. Goodman and all of his running mates sweeping to victory – the WGA East election is set to conclude on Thursday, with President Beau Willimon, running unopposed, and his Unity Slate poised to carry the day as well.

And as with the election in the West, the main issues in the Easts officer and Council races are the WGAs five-month battle with the Association of Talent Agents and the upcoming negotiations with the managements AMPTP for a new film and TV contract, known as the Minimum Basic Agreement.

Willimon and his Unity Slate all support the WGAs demands to end agency packaging fees and affiliations with corporately related production entities – and the WGAs edict that all of members must fire their agents who refuse to sign its new agency Code of Conduct. Indeed, the four candidates competing for officer posts all support the guilds ongoing agency campaign, so no matter who wins, the guilds leadership will be solidly in favor of continuing the fight. The overwhelming majority of the 18 candidates vying for nine open seats on the Council also support the fight, though several question the guilds tactics.

The Unity Slates platform states: “Our Guilds strength is in its solidarity. We aim to maximize that strength with regard to the agency struggle and the upcoming MBA negotiations. We support a firm stance in systemically addressing conflicts of interest within our industry.”

In his official campaign statement, Willimon wrote: “I have worked closely with Council, staff, captains and the leadership of the WGA West to help conduct our current collective action as strongly and smoothly as possible, while also being mindful that we need to address the concerns of those who have felt disruption. I will continue to support our struggle and promote ways for us to help each other. The tools and networks we are creating now will serve us long after this struggle is over.”

Read all of the candidates statements here.

Bob Schneider, running unopposed on the Unity Slate for re-election as secretary-treasurer, described the guilds agency campaign as a “slow-moving freedom train.” In his statement, he said that “We have moved collectively to end the conflicted practices of the agents whose job is first and foremost to serve our best interests, and the solidarity weve shown over the course of this slow-moving freedom train has been inspiring. A Guild united cannot be defeated. Vote for the Unity Slate and we will finish what weve started along with supporting and expanding the priorities that the leadership and membership of this guild have chosen over the past dozen years.”

David Simon, one of the earliest and loudest voices against the alleged conflicts of interest inherent in agency packaging deals, is running for re-election to the Easts Council. In March, he posted a statement denouncing the agencies packaging practices. “Packaging is a lie,” he wrote. “It is theft. It is fraud. In the hands of the right U.S. Attorney, it might even be prima facie evidence of decades of racketeering. Its that f*cking ugly.”

And a month later, be became one of the named plaintiffs in the WGAs anti-packaging lawsuit against the Big Four agencies (read it here), which claimed that their conflicts of interest are illegal because they create a breach of fiduciary duty to their writer-clients.

Simon, the writer-producer of such shows as The Wire, The Deuce and Homicide: Life on the Street, made similar arguments in his campaign statement, while acknowledging that writer-producers like himself also have certain conflicts of interests of their own when it comes to guild service, though those conflicts, he says, are not illegal.

“Let me be blunt about my status as a television writer,” he told the guilds members. “I am one of those who wear the joint labor/management hat of a writer/producer. It is a problematic position within our union in that the interests of every writer/producer or showrunner are inherently in conflict. As a writer and a member of the WGAE, and certainly as a council member, my absolute allegiance must be to the craft and position of the television or film writer. My interests as a producer cannot and should not factor in my deliberations or votes. The union is here first and foremost as a labor organization; it defends and services the laborers and their skill above all.

“As a producer, I have been with the same television agent for a quarter century and it has been easy for me to retain representation. As a showrunner, I have been on the same HBO development deal – renegotiated at intervals of two and three years – for 18 years. If I am gauging self-interest on the basis of my producorial status, there is little to be gleaned personally by engaging in this battle. In fact, my status will be unaffected whether the WGA wins or loses this packaging fight – especially given the fact that I have refused to allow myself or my shows to be packaged since I discovered as a young writer the incredible conflict of interest and organized bid-rigging that packaging represents. Having covered bid-rigging and racketeering in the federal courts of Baltimore, I can assure everyone that packaging bears the comparison well. If I went along with this scam, allowing my shows shooting budgets to be raided by agencies who take money off the screen and artificially reduce the cost of all the talent below my position, I could save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in commission that I willingly pay. I do so because to not pay that money while my WGA brethren are being diminished is to in effect profit from the bid-rigging and accept what amounts to a bribe.

“But for all the younger and more vulnerable writers in my union – the men and women who labor for and with me on my productions – there is much less opportunity to obtain representation. Why? Because agents have little incentive to spend time and effort on behalf of junior writers who cannot deliver or produce the kind of packaging through which the agencies now make their real money. These younger and more vulnerable writers cannot go to HBO business affairs and demand pay commensurate with their talents when the rate for staff writers, story editors, and junior producers has been artificially reduced by the wholesale indifference of agents to champion younger writers at the expense of the packages themselves. As a showrunner, I have seen firsthand how packaging has corrupted the direct fiduciary role of agents in advocating for younger writers. They are the ones being betrayed by this dynamic. It is unsurprising to me that some small number of my fellow showrunners – accustomed to not paying their 10 percent and unaffected by the relative poverty of those lower on the pay pyramid – are among some of the more vocal opponents of the current campaign. Yes, they are doing fine. At a certain point up the pyramid, this system does have advantages.

“As someone steeped in the power of unions who knows that nothing worth fighting for was ever gained by such little cost as going without a business representative for a couple months, I confess to being a bit embarrassed by some of the few complaints Ive heard from a handful of members. I think of Flint, Ludlow, Haymarket, or even the earlier and hard-fought battles of this union in establishing itself and guaranteeing us a living wage and real benefits, and I wonder how anyone can issue a jeremiad against this action so quickly. Especially when twice now, the agencies have come back and thrown small amounts of cash on the table – money that wasnt there before we began this fight. Is it enough? Is there an amount that will be enough to justify the maintenance of packaging? Its hard to say when the agencies are refusing all efforts at establishing transparency, or when the percentages are still so seemingly small. But the precedent has already been broken: For the first time, the agencies are acknowledging an inherent problem with packaging and they are throwing the first bones. Undercutting our negotiating committee now – rather than strengthening it with the support of this unity slate – is a mugs move. And making that move will weaken us just as we head into our triannual negotiation with the studios; maintaining our commitment to the long haul with the agents shows our real resolve not only to the agencies, but to the studios as well.

“For these reasons, I am proud to be a part of the Unity Slate. And for these reasons, I respectfully ask to be returned to the WGAE council for a second term so that the essential work of addressing the longstanding problem of agency packaging will be supported and not undercut.”

Other members of the Unity Slate include vice presidential candidate Kathy McGee and Council candidates Bonnie Datt, Josh Gondelman, Dru Johnston, Courtney Simon and Amy Sohn — all of whom support the guilds current course of action.

Fifteen candidates are vying for six open Freelance seats on the Council, while three others – incumbents Philip Pilato, Kim Kelly and Hamilton Nolan – will be re-elected to the three open Staff seats.

Pilato, whos also running for vice president against McGee, is also a strong supporter of the guilds agency campaign. “When I was first elected as a WGAE Council member in 2007, we were in a crisis,” he wrote in his campaign statement. “We had just started the strike that would re-define the entertainment industry. Now we are in another battle to reshape the industry and the stakes for writers couldnt be higher.

“There were those against the path that we ultimately took then – a strike – and now, there are those that oppose the current path that the WGA is taking against agents. Those opposed were wrong then and theyre wrong now.

“The biggest gain writers achieved from the strike was getting the studios to open their books to us – so that writers could find out how much a movie or show really made and demand fair compensation based on that knowledge. Similarly, the fight against agents is a battle to get them to be fair and open with writers. Because they refuse to open their books to us – we really dont know how much theyre making off of writers work. Of course, theres the small fact that getting a kickback for doing your job is illegal. And when the agents try to appease us by offering to share a fraction of that kickback with us – it doesnt make it anymore legal. Thats why writers have to stand firm and fight for the agents to work for us – not themselves.”

Council candidates Anya Epstein, Bash Doran and Tracey Scott Wilson issued a joint statement calling for major changes in the agency business, but are critical of the guilds handling of the battle. “At this critical moment – when we all are pushing for much-needed change in our relationship with the agencies – we believe there must be room for diversity at the table: diversity of gender, diversity of race and diversity of opinions,” they wrote. “We have increasing concerns over the way the conflict with the ATA is being managed. We have no desire for a return to the status quo. We believe the ATA must make tremendous adjustments in the way they structure and do business. We also believe that the acknowledgement – and inclusion – of questioning and challenging voices will be key toward retaining solidarity and guiding this action toward a more thoughtful resolution. Going forward, we aim to ensure more open communication between members and leadership, greater transparency at every turn, protection for our most vulnerable brothers and sisters and most of all – the articulation of a clear, achievable vision for the future that will benefit all writers. These values will also guide us through the upcoming and critical MBA negotiations.”

Council candidate Gina Gionfriddo, meanwhile, said in her campaign statement that she is “conflicted” about the agency campaign, but she is not calling for a change in strategy – at least not yet. “To address the elephant in the room,” she wrote, “I think this will be a more volatile election than Ive experienced previously because we are in the trenches with the WGAs negotiation with the ATA. I am not aligned with any slate of candidates because I find myself a conflicted, middle-of-the-road thinker about this action. To be clear, I voted in favor of the action (imposing a code of conduct on the talent agencies) and I left my film/TV agents as the guild required me to do. More importantly, I am philosophically and ethically in agreement with this fight. I believe that agency packaging and affiliate producing are practices rife with abuse that our union absolutely needs to address. And I dont believe packaging is just a rich show runners problem; I believe it impacts writers at all levels.

“But Im conflicted. My reservations are not about the rightness of the action, but rather about the lack of transparency with which the battle has been waged and about how inequitably this burden is being borne within our membership. Unlike a pencils down strike action, this is an action that asks for great sacrifice from one segment of our membership while stressing a big chunk of our membership not at all. To ask for union solidarity in the face of that is a much bigger challenge than weve adequately acknowledged. Im worried about heading into 2020 AMPTP negotiations with part of our membership spiritually and financially depleted.

“I also think membership deserves a less cryptic conversation with leadership about revenue sharing as an option to reform packaging. Are we open to it or not? I dont know if revenue share is a viable solution, but I feel weve received very mixed messages about this and the resulting confusion is sowing discontent in our ranks. Id also like to have a more frank conversation about the exRead More – Source

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