Friday, December 14, 2007


Since the AMPTP broke off "talks" last Friday, the writers' union keeps on picketing, despite bad weather, despite the hard-line tactics by the networks and studios, but still with the resolve to win their fight.

Here's the letter sent out by Michael Winship after last Friday's break-off:

Dear Fellow Members of the Writers Guild of America, East:

They lie.

And then they lie again.

And then they lie some more.

Because the AMPTP wants to create confusion, doubt, fear and dissension. They want to divide and conquer, to undercut our proven solidarity. They are spending a fortune -- money that better could be used to help cover the comparatively small amount we're asking for -- on newspapers ads, political spin doctors and crisis management consultants specializing in union busting.

The bottom line: Don't believe a word the AMPTP has to say.

If I hadn't seen and heard it with my own eyes, I might not have believed the extraordinary depths of their dissembling. Last week in Los Angeles, I sat in the caucus room as we waited for the studios and networks to come to the table and negotiate. And waited. And waited.

We were told that we would be receiving the second half of their so-called "New Economic Partnership," a proposal the first half of which seemed more Orwellian in its title than truly new or a generous partnership. Instead, we acted first, presenting in good faith a reasonable counterproposal to the first half of their "NEP," which had offered a puny amount of money -- $253 max -- for video streaming of television product.

Our counterproposal put forward a plan whereby for the first year, three percent of the applicable minimum would be paid, per quarter, for every 100,000 hits on the Internet. So if you wrote a one-hour episodic drama, you'd get $632.34 for the first 100,000 hits, then an additional $632.64 for the next 100,000 and the next 100,000 and so on -- quarterly, for the first year. After that, it would revert to 2.5% of distributor's gross. (There's further information on this and many other aspects of the negotiations on our website,

There was no immediate response. Instead, the AMPTP asked that we break off into smaller groups to discuss not only our proposals for the Internet and new media but all aspects of our contract demands.

We saw this as progress -- it wasn't negotiating as such but it did lead to the first frank and substantive talks with the AMPTP on new media and a range of our other issues, from original content for the Internet to enforcement and jurisdiction in reality, animation and basic cable. (By the way, it is apparently on the basis of that brief discussion of jurisdiction that the AMPTP has fueled ludicrous rumors and fabricated the fairy tale that negotiations broke down because of animation and reality -- another one of their gross distortions. DON'T you believe it.)

On Thursday, we waited all day for new proposals they said were forthcoming any minute. Didn't happen. (This led to another lie from the AMPTP. They said, accusingly, "When they are at the negotiating site, WGA organizers typically spend as much time speaking among themselves as they do at the negotiating table." Yes -- but only because we were waiting for the truant AMPTP to show up around the bargaining table at all!)

On Friday, members of the negotiating committee waited all day AGAIN, until the end of the day and week, 6 pm, when the AMPTP finally made a presentation. As our negotiating committee chairman John Bowman wrote you, "The AMPTP came back to us with a proposal that included a total rejection of our proposal on Internet streaming of December 3rd. They are holding to their offer of a $250 fixed residual for unlimited one year streaming after a six-week window of free use. They still insist on the DVD rate for Internet downloads. They refuse to cover original material made for new media.

"This offer was accompanied by an ultimatum: the AMPTP demands we give up several of our proposals, including Fair Market Value (our protection against vertical integration and self-dealing), animation, reality, and, most crucially, any proposal that uses distributor's gross as a basis for residuals. This would require us to concede most of our Internet proposal as a precondition for continued bargaining. The AMPTP insists we let them do to the Internet what they did to home video."

At this point, the talks broke down and it became crystal clear that this had been the AMPTP's intention all along -- a press release went out from them so headspinningly fast that it clearly had been prepared long in advance.

They refuse to negotiate until we accept their ultimatum. We refuse to bow to such supercilious, bullheaded intransigence, designed solely to destroy us. Yet we remain reasonable women and men willing to talk, bargain and negotiate anytime, anywhere.

At the same time, we must keep confronting their shortsighted obstinacy by continuing to bring our cause to the streets with our signs and our shouts, taking our story to the public, which maintains its staunch support of our cause. They recognize that, as SEIU President Andy Stern told Friday's Los Angeles Times, "This really is the first significant 21st century strike. It's raising the issues, as work changes, about how prosperity is going to be shared."

Seventy years ago, back in the fledgling days of the Writers Guild, its president, Dudley Nichols -- who wrote such classic movies as "The Informer," "Stagecoach" and "Bringing Up Baby" -- was asked why we were unionizing. He replied, "Because writers happen to be people who think."

We are smarter, more committed and more united. That is our strength. That is our power. That is why we will win.

Onward, in solidarity,
Michael Winship
Writers Guild of America, East

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