Contract negotiations between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are back on after the two sides agreed to extend the expiration date of their existing contract to June 30. The start date for contract talks has been set for the week of May 11, the same time that had been set before plans had been postponed last week over a dispute concerning the guild’s health plan.
“Due to the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WGA and the AMPTP have agreed to extend the 2017 WGA Minimum Basic Agreement expiration date from May 1 to June 30, 2020,” the WGA negotiating committee wrote in an email to the guild’s members. “Therefore, writers will continue to be covered by the current contractual terms through the end of June.”
“The WGA Negotiating Committee will be meeting via video conference with the AMPTP starting the week of May 11th to negotiate a successor MBA contract. Our entire committee remains committed to gaining the best possible deal for writers.”
Talks between the WGA and AMPTP had initially been set for March, but the two sides had to postpone after the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing safety regulations made in-person meetings impossible.
Earlier this month, the two sides seemed to come to an agreement on a start time for May 11, but plans hit a speed bump after the guild asked the AMPTP to extend coverage for members on the WGA Health Plan who would not be able to meet earnings eligibility requirements because of the pandemic. When AMPTP President Carol Lombardini wrote in a letter that the organization would have to meet with member studios about the issue, WGA Executive Director replied, “There will be an agreement when both sides agree there’s one. You people are despicable.”
After Lombardini replied with an email asking for further clarification, the AMPTP announced last week that it would begin contract talks with SAG-AFTRA on April 27, seemingly sidelining the WGA even though its contract was set to expire this Friday. But now talks are back on as the AMPTP will have to negotiate with two major Hollywood guilds in close succession on issues including residuals for projects made for streaming services. While the AMPTP reached a deal with the Directors Guild of America prior to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, it is unclear how much that contract will be able to serve as a benchmark for SAG-AFTRA and the WGA in their negotiations considering the drastic economic downturn that has hit the industry since then.
As for the health plan, Lombardini told the WGA in a letter sent Thursday that any eligibility requirement extensions will require a system that can identify which writers had their job status affected by the pandemic. Lombardini and the AMPTP argue that writers have been less affected than other types of entertainment industry workers like directors, actors and crew since their jobs have been taken by production shutdowns while many writers’ rooms have been able to continue their work remotely.
“If you would like to raise the issue for discussion at a meeting of the Trustees, we are amenable to that path,” Lombardini wrote. “Alternatively, if you would prefer to have discussions during our upcoming negotiations in a few weeks, we are also prepared to take the matter up at that time.”
It is not clear at this time whether the health plan will be discussed during the contract talks. The WGA and AMPTP did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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