John August, a member of the WGA’s agency negotiating committee, says it’s going to be a “slog” before the guild reaches a new franchise agreement with the major agencies – a standoff, now in its 115th day, that’s already a long slog.
On his latest blog, he also takes on the naysayers who claim the WGA hasn’t been negotiating for a new agency agreement. And while the guild hasn’t met face-to-face with the Association of Talent Agents since June 7, it has been negotiating deals with smaller and mid-sized agencies. August, who’s also a member of the WGA West’s board of directors, challenged those who say otherwise in a blog titled “The Myth of ‘No Negotiations.’”
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“For the past two years, I’ve served on the WGA board of directors and the negotiating committee for the agency campaign,” he wrote. “I’ve spoken with hundreds of members in person, on the phone and via email. Some are strongly in favor of the Guild’s action; some are vehemently opposed. That’s fine! A union doesn’t require uniformity of opinion. But it does need a common set of facts.
“In that spirit, I want to address a pernicious myth that’s being amplified by some of the candidates running for office this cycle: that the WGA refuses to negotiate. I hear this idea repeated so often that some very smart friends have stopped questioning the premise. It’s become a straw man, a false argument set up just to be knocked down.”
He quotes Phyllis Nagy, leader of the guild’s opposition faction, who has said that “In refusing to negotiate with the ATA, current leadership has effectively refused to negotiate with the Big 4. Stalemate. That benefits no one.”
(August hosts a weekly Scriptnotes podcast with Craig Mazin, who was Nagy’s vice presidential running mate until Mazin dropped out of the race last week “due to a medical issue with an immediate family member.”)
August quotes WGA presidential candidate William Schmidt, who has said: “But leadership is not negotiating. They refuse to negotiate until the Big Four end packaging and eliminate affiliated production companies. They cite as our biggest weapon the lawsuit filed on behalf of eight writers.”
And he quotes Jason Fuchs, who’s running for the board on Nagy’s slate, and who has said: “I want to win this fight, but we cannot win a game we refuse to play. The solution these candidates offer is so reasonable as to seem obvious: just start negotiating!”
August, however, says that “The reality is that the WGA has never refused to negotiate. In fact, it never stopped negotiating. But! But! What about back in June, when David Goodman put out a statement saying that we were going to stop negotiating? Except he didn’t. Here’s what he actually said: ‘The truth is, the agencies in that ATA room are stuck. Agencies that have no financial interest in producing, and very little in packaging, are having their futures tied to entities like WME, which has gone into the IPO business and is currently committed to changing nothing. There is virtually no negotiation occurring, except for the concessions the Guild has made. Two months after our last meeting, they have now made us an offer that, as I indicated earlier, moved very little, and in some ways is worse. So, we think it is time to start negotiating individually with the nine remaining agencies who represent a significant amount of writers, rather than with the ATA. The nine agencies are UTA, CAA, ICM, WME, Gersh, Paradigm, Rothman Brecher, Kaplan-Stahler, and APA. We are willing to meet with every agency that is willing to meet with us. We’ll reach out to each of them individually again in an attempt to hear their specific concerns with our proposals.’”
And “that’s what actually happened,” August wrote. “In the past month, the first of those nine agencies (Kaplan Stahler) broke from the ATA and signed a new negotiated agreement. I stress negotiated because members of the negotiating committee — including me — spent hours discussing and debating which compromises made sense, both for this deal and going forward. Since then, the Buchwald Agency signed a deal, as did a new agency formed by leading agents who left Abrams.
“In each case, the negotiations were quiet. The town didn’t know they were happening until the results were announced.” (Actually, Deadline broke the news about the Buchwald deal shortly before the guild announced it.)
A few days before Buchwald and Kaplan Stahler signed, the Los Angeles Times wrote that “‘There is no back-channeling going on,’ said an agency leader who was not authorized to comment.”
“Whoops!” August wrote. “A July 20th LA Times article picked the wrong person to interview.”
“Not only was there back-channeling going on,” he wrote, “there were active negotiations between agencies and the guild. The discussions were focused on specific issues. For example, in response to agency concerns, we clarified language on reporting requirements and increased the length of the deal to five years. None of the announced agreements have been with big four agencies, nor do they offer concessions on producing or packaging fees, other than a one-year sunset clause.”
“Having been in the sausage-making room, I believe the process of reaching a resolution with the big four agencies is likely to be frustrating and exhausting, with multiple false starts, dashed hopes and occasional breakthroughs. It’ll take more than one shot. I think we can get there, but my hunch is it’s going to be a slog, because it’s been a slog. This is sloggy business.
“That’s not the kind of statement a candidate can run on (“Vote for the Slog!”), but fortunately I’m not running for reelection. I’m only speaking as someone who’s spent hundreds of hours on this and wants my guild to come out of both this agency campaign and election season with clear eyes, compassionate differences of opinion, and a common set of facts.”
Check out August’s full post here.
Editors note: This story has been updated to clarify John August’s quote in the headline.