The WGA and management’s AMPTP are set to begin negotiations for a new film and TV contract a week from Monday, but it’s unclear whether those talks will go on as scheduled amid the growing coronavirus pandemic.
In his latest message to the guild’s members, WGA West executive director David Young said that “We will contact you when there is an update regarding our discussions with the AMPTP about MBA negotiations.” From that, it’s unclear if he’s leaving the door open to postponing the negotiations until after the global pandemic abates. The WGA and the AMPTP both declined comment.
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The companies largely make their deals with Hollywood’s unions based on their forecasts of projected income over the three-year spans of guild contracts. But any forecasts they had – even as recently as March 5, when the AMPTP reached a three-year deal with the DGA – are now out the window.
The studios, which before the COVID-19 outbreak had been racking up record profits, now stand to lose billions. Their stocks are plummeting, movie openings are being pushed back, productions are being halted, and a wave of movie theater closings could be coming just as they’ve already come for all other mass gatherings including Broadway, concerts, film festivals, and every major sporting event.
The WGA closed its own Writers Guild Theater earlier this week to all screenings, as the DGA has done with its theaters in Los Angeles and New York.
With a growing number of TV shows halting production to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the WGA West says it’s been fielding inquiries from writers about their rights and obligations during the outbreak. “Legally, all employers have an obligation to provide a safe and healthy workplace,” Young told his members. “We have been in contact with the major studios and anticipate that we will continue to be updated concerning company policies implemented in response to these health concerns. While the Guild is not your employer, in keeping with public health recommendations, if you can work remotely we recommend that you do. If you are a supervisor, contact your studio for guidance.
“For its part, the Guild stands ready to advise and represent writers who have questions about workplace safety, or about contractual or employment rights in these extraordinary circumstances. Guild lawyers, business representatives and other staff are available to help provide advice and advocacy for you, if necessary.”
On Wednesday, the WGA said all non-essential guild meetings had been canceled until further notice. “We may decide to ask WGAW employees to work remotely in the near future,” Young wrote. “However, staff will continue to carry out all essential functions for members. The Guild phone and email systems will continue to operate, but if it takes someone a bit longer than usual to get back to you or complete a task, please understand we are trying to balance our vital union work with serious public health concerns.”
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