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Tags: Talks | Resume | for | Hollywood | Writers

Talks to Resume for Hollywood Writers

Wednesday, 18 April 2001 12:00 AM

At the end of the session, the WGA announced that talks would resume at 10:00 a.m. Wednesday, local time.

The guild announced that Tuesday's discussions centered on "the process for ongoing negotiations" and that negotiators established subcommittees to work on issues including animation writing, the arbitration process, character payments, diversity, three-person teams and low-budget TV programs.

As Hollywood producers and writers prepared to resume the talks, there appeared to be increasing optimism that they could settle their differences and avert a writers strike.

Continued anxiety about the general health of the economy is contributing to what appears to be a growing sense that the WGA and the AMPTP would be wise to come to terms, rather than risk a strike when the current contract expires on May 2.

The WGA may also be feeling a little pressure to settle because of the announcement by the top official of the Teamsters Union in Hollywood that his members will keep working if the writers walk out.

"If it comes down to it, my members come first," said Leo Reed, head of Teamsters Local 399, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

"We usually honor other locals' picket lines," said Reed. "But if there is a writers strike and there is work to be done, I'll support my members."

The Teamsters local represents nearly 4,000 workers in Hollywood. Besides driving vehicles, they work in a variety of other movie and TV production jobs.

The local supported the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists last year during a six-month strike against advertisers. Reed said he personally walked the picket line then, but the strike cost his local "100 jobs a day," and a strike against the studios would cost more than 3,000 jobs.

Reed has pointed out that writers failed to support Teamsters during their last Hollywood strike in 1988. During the last SAG strike against the studios in 1980, Teamsters parked their rigs in front of the entrances to the Hollywood Bowl, just to keep actors from attending a SAG rally there.

Cheryl Rhoden, the assistant executive director of the WGA, would not comment on Reed's remarks. Rhoden said the guild's focus is on negotiating a contract it can recommend to its members, and any discussion about a strike is premature.

Negotiators for the producers and the writers met for six weeks earlier this year, but broke off talks on March 1. Both sides have issued conflicting claims regarding the amount of money that separates them, but the major items of contention are not in doubt.

The writers wants an increase in residual payments for both TV and movie scripts, and they want to be paid for the use of their work in foreign markets, on cable TV and on the Internet. They also want higher payments for the sale of video cassettes and DVDs.

By some accounts, the monetary gulf between the guild and the AMPTP only amounts to about $100 million over three years -- meaning they need to come together over the matter of $33 million per year in a contract that involves payments to writers of more than $1 billion per year.

SAG officials expect to begin talks on a new contract no sooner than May 10. The current actors contract expires at the end of June.

Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan has gotten involved, citing the potential damage to the local economy.

"Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world," said Riordan, "and the entertainment industry has been a driving force in our city's economic recovery. Any strike would devastate thousands of innocent victims who are not represented at this bargaining table, across a range of industries."

The Los Angeles Economic Development Commission estimated earlier this year that a strike by writers and actors - which would effectively shut down the entertainment industry - would cost the local economy approximately $2 billion per month.

"No good can come from the potential industry strikes," said the mayor. "Both the studios and the guild have much to lose and little to gain."

Riordan said he has commissioned a new study to ascertain how many jobs and how much tax revenue would be lost, and which sectors of the economy might be affected by a strike.

Studios have prepared for the possibility of a strike by rushing production on feature films this spring, leading to a substantial increase in work opportunities for writers, actors and everyone else involved in production.

TV networks have been developing contingency plans for their 2001-2002 primetime schedules that call for a greater reliance on unscripted programming – including more news and so-called "reality-based" shows.

The WGA and the AMPTP have agreed to observe a media blackout during their negotiations.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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At the end of the session, the WGA announced that talks would resume at 10:00 a.m. Wednesday, local time. The guild announced that Tuesday's discussions centered on the process for ongoing negotiations and that negotiators established subcommittees to work on issues...
Wednesday, 18 April 2001 12:00 AM
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