Thursday, December 06, 2007


This was the latest email from our guild. It was factual, to the point and devoid of spin and emotion. Thank you for listening.

The WGA Negotiating Committee, on behalf of the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) and the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), today issued the following statement regarding Contract 2007 negotiations:

“The Writers Guilds met today with the AMPTP and discussed issues of jurisdiction for original content for the Internet, Reality TV, Animation, and Basic Cable. The talks also were focused on contract enforcement. For the last two days, we have had substantive discussions of the issues important to writers, the first time this has occurred in this negotiation. However, we are still waiting for the AMPTP to respond to all of our proposals, including Internet streaming of theatrical and television product and digital downloads. Bargaining resumes tomorrow at 10 a.m.”

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


I was asked by a friend (one of the few people who actually reads this blog) what is my real point of view about the state of negotiations. She claimed my blogs were like Switzerland -- self-motivated neutrality. Ouch. My point in the preceding blogs has not been about devil's advocacy. Or creating doubt or disharmony. If you read them, you see that it's about seeking the facts and making a decision on truth not rhetoric (which we get from both AMPTP and the WGA). We need to scrutinize our leaders, actions and motives as much, if not more than the other side does. When we understand and accept our weaknesses, we take away the vulnerability of those missteps. They cannot be used them against us. Let's be a pack of wolves not a flock of sheep. On Monday, I was at Warners. A couple people from the negotiating committee were there answering questions. Members fired off a lot of queries about money and strategy. But there was also this zen-like vibe from many members, requesting that the guild not engage in the propaganda warfare. In essence, stop sending the doomsday emails about how we're being screwed (that's an exaggeration but you get the point). Our guild, our members, know how Big Media is manipulating the facts. We know their tactics. We read Nikki Fink. We trust our leadership. All we need are calm, factual updates. There seems to be a sense of urgency on PV's part to discredit AMPTP's PR spin. In his communication he sometimes cannot distance himself from that emotion. It bleeds all over his missives. The most encouraging thing about the chats on Monday was the honesty. The reps from the guild copped to their imperfections. They are listening to us and are willing to learn from their mistakes. That's all we can ask for. That and a fair deal.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


Another email from my Shield brother that brings more clarity. Grateful for the insight in the following message (it’s long, but worth the read). It’s given me a much needed boost in the confidence of our leadership and our tactics. I may record it on a disk so I can play it over and over again in my car. Where I spend a lot of time these days. In traffic. Not writing.

Tim Lea writes:

Hey all --

So the AMPTP has responded. Four days of 'meetings', and the resulting offer is a strange hybrid of calculated low-balling, contempt and picaresque fantasy that would better become a Voltaire novel than an early 21st-century labor negotiation. The details of the 'deal' are by now familiar to you all (if not, has the skinny), and we are being engaged in a way that ups the stakes considerably. At , the post 'More Clarification...' provides a pithy summary of where we are..

It may seem that we are dealing with an irrational entity. The damage they are doing to our industry far exceeds any bottom line financial impact that would result from acceding to our demands. Calculations vary, but estimates of how much this strike is costing the studios run as high as $20 million dollars a week in lost production, lost revenue, penalty clauses in advertising commitments, etc. Over the course of the contract we're currently attempting to negotiate, the Guild's proposals will cost the Studios some odd shy of $200 million dollars. On the surface, it doesn't add up.

The obvious insanity of blowing up the entertainment industry defies logical explanation, which makes clear the salient point: we're not yet dealing with the people who are in a position to say 'Yes'. We face a group, the AMPTP, whose self-described mission is to "function as a bargaining unit for over 350 signatory companies.” (Check out their website -- it's a hoot: They don't actually make anything. Their sole function is to 'bargain'. In other words, their job is to say 'No' for the studios.

The reason we are talking to this group, and not to the actual decision-makers, is that the studios and corporations they represent are not yet ready to negotiate. They calculate that they have time before this year's TV season is irrevocably damaged, and that they have a little more time before pilot season for the 08-09 season is under threat. With the added and increasing pressure on show-runners as force majeure clauses kick in, the studios hope to dent our resolve in the execution of the strike, and to create fatal divisions within our membership.

There is nothing irrational or random about any of this. The first entry in a Google search of the term Union Busting provides a link to the home page of a union-busting firm. They're quite up front: "It's about winning," they say:

"Since 1987, Adams, Nash, Haskell & Sheridan has assisted hundreds of employers in thousands of engagements always protecting the employers' rights to continue to manage…unobstructed by unions or other outside third parties that can destroy productivity, profitability, and the joy of the direct relationship between an employer and its employees."

The "joy" of the direct relationship? These guys have never been on a notes call. Anyhoo, although the above mission statement is syntactically incoherent, the point is clear: there is an industry devoted to union-busting with refined strategies for dealing with union activity. And for a price, they'll pack their kitbags and show up, ready to take on whatever union they're pointed at. They have bullet points:

Most strikes are won or lost before they begin. Preparation is often the best deterrent.

Employers must know where they are before deciding to allow a strike. Our Labor Dispute Audit® [somebody wrote that! ] form will assist in that evaluation.

Almost all strikes bring with them the union's corporate campaign. Our counter corporate campaign helps the client keep its varied stakeholders onboard.

Maintaining operational effectiveness is the key to withstanding the effects of a work stoppage.

ANHS identifies the key issues a struck company faces. It is significant that in all these areas, the WGA strike is already having a huge impact. The studios were unprepared; they were caught in an untenable production cycle; they were caught by surprise by our PR blitz and are suffering substantial hits to their share values; and they are completely unable to maintain output without our active participation.

We have been effective, so the second phase of their crisis management has kicked in. They are now trying to break the strike. This tactical adjustment merely is another aspect of their overall strategy, which is to gain control over 'New Media' by breaking the unions. First us, then the rest. The Internet will be a non-union town.

The tactics of this past week have been about breaking the strike. Raise hopes, dash them. Present an 'Economic Partnership', then plead helplessness as we reject their proposals. (Key elements, which bear further discussion in another forum, of which an example: they told us five months ago that fixed residual formulas were too onerous for New Media; we proposed a percentage formula -- you make money we make money [and the obvious reverse]; they come back with a fixed residual formula. Even the federal mediator remarked that this seemed a little crazy.)

Other tactics: the violated press blackout. Who leaked information to Nikki Finke? Clearly not one of us, because its tone was merely a breathless prelude to the AMPTP's announcement that they had "unveiled a New Economic Partnership to the WGA, which includes groundbreaking moves in several areas of new media, including streaming, content made for new media and programming delivered over digital broadcast channels..."

A profoundly effective tactic: our membership reads Nikki Finke, the AMPTP leaks details of an impending breakthrough in the talks, we get pumped and relieved, then when there's nothing, we're all heartbroken. The hope being, of course, that we will blame the leadership, thus dividing the Guild.

In his book "Confessions of a Union Buster", Martin Jay Levitt details the techniques he learned in his many years attacking unions. A key element is the demoralization of the union members during any industrial action against the company. Taking away people's hopes, their aspirations for a quick resolution to any labor dispute – that was Levitt's job. "If you [can] make the union fight drag on long enough, workers...lose faith, lose interest, lose hope.” This from a recognized expert in the field of union-busting.

According to Robert Muehlenkamp, an SEIU Local 1199 organizer at Harper Grace hospital in the 70's, where Levitt was hired to consult management: "Union busters wield great power through a program of terror and manipulation – people don't, can't possibly know what's going on and who's telling the truth. Most of the people [at a work site] are just ordinary people. They have no experience … with violence, with being lied to, with manipulation, with being harassed in open, gross, insulting ways. The first time this happens to regular people, they're terrified.” And terror is the goal. The union buster hopes to control employees by employing terror.

But it isn't just about breaking an organizing drive at one single location. Muehlenkamp again: "If other hospital workers watched all the workers at Harper Grace try to organize and saw what happened to them, only to lose, they weren't going to attempt the same."

This is, of course, precisely the situation we find ourselves in today. We are the example that is being used to intimidate the other unions. The studios want the actors, the directors, the Teamsters, IATSE, all to look at our struggle and see us lose. See us fractured and divided. With the hope that they will be frightened by what they see, and accept whatever deal the studios offer.

The idea is also to make us appear demoralized, then divided. To the public, and to ourselves. Diminish the pickets (LA Times: the "relentless picketing" which was one element in bringing the AMPTP back to the table); split off core groups (oh no! Carlton Cuse has gone back to work! The Showrunners are all abandoning us!); fragment the internal leadership (the Captain's meeting Friday, although generally cordial, did show signs of strain as one writer, concerned for his laid-off production team asked "What do I tell them?" to be admonished by another member that "We are on strike!"); and create a sense that the studios can wait this out, and that we're not getting anywhere. That our strike is useless.

But it's not.

The most powerful tactic in strike-breaking is propagandistic. The union (and particularly the leadership) is portrayed as power-hungry, control-seeking, strike-happy, aloof. Leadership is described as detached from the membership and inaccessible to their demands (Patric responded to over 500 e-mails over the Thanksgiving break.) The strike is described as rudderless and futile, with declining numbers on the picket lines. The creation of a Strike Rules committee is described as fascistic. The companies are portrayed as avuncular and concerned: "We're just trying to get everyone back to work."

Levitt again: "The aim of the union buster is a war of saturation bombing in which half-truths, accusations and distortions of union positions put the union on the defensive.” Forcing the union leadership to defend itself during meetings means there's no time left for planning, or building internal unity. The workers won't have time to discuss their own issues if they're sufficiently bombarded with "twisted information" sown by the union buster. Which, in our own case, is the AMPTP.

The well-orchestrated anti-union campaign is nuanced and calibrated to human emotion. The union buster may offer a deal that creates an illusion that management recognizes its mistakes and has learned its lessons, and is trying to find a way to resolve the problem. Management really has changed, and management deserves a chance.

Okay? Confessions of a Union Buster. There is an AMPTP policy document that details how to deal with ‘negotiations.’ It essentially ends every paragraph with this simple idea: Divide and conquer. Divide and conquer. Conquer? Our ask doesn't even match inflation! Conquer what? Why? What's going on?

The New York Times today: "The nearly month-old strike by screenwriters has entered a new and perhaps uglier phase, revealing the conflict for what it has been all along: not so much a tiff over industry economics as a struggle for power over Hollywood's perceived digital future."

Oh, really? Well blow me down. It's about the Internet. Who woulda thunk? The supposed mis-step over the DVD proposal withdrawal (where the negotiating committee was assured by the AMPTP that the DVD formula was a big stumbling block, we withdrew it, they responded with nothing) is now recognized as a feint: there was no concern about DVD's. The corporations don't care. Your DVD collection is headed for the garage right now. At Ralph's, you can buy a DVD player for $29.95. That's cheaper than an 8-track player, bids on which top 100 bucks (for the really nice ones.)

So that's what the fight's over. Even the NYT, ever behind the curve on the news cycle, gets it. So now we are all clear what this is about.

And the corporations hope to smash our union around this issue. No Internet. No DVD's. No jurisdiction. No transparency. No nothing.

At the SEIU rally on Thursday, the marchers began and ended with a prayer. They bowed their heads and prayed for direction and guidance and thanked their God for the opportunity, the voice, the courage, the belief, to express themselves in their struggle.

They connect their struggle with their belief. They believe, and we must believe.

The SEIU leadership negotiates quite inflexibly with the employers because the employers see that the leadership is empowered by the belief of the members. This works in two ways. There is the obvious physical expression of the belief of the membership in being out in force, vocally, on the picket lines, and there is the emotional power of belief that underpins the leadership's work. The leadership can focus on the exhausting work of facing down the employers at the negotiating table because they are sustained by the knowledge that the membership is behind them. A leadership whose energy is divided by having to put out the fires of flagging faith cannot hold its own against the companies.

Again, this is the tactical approach of the AMPTP. Fragment the union, make the leadership have to focus on keeping us all happy, and the power of the WGA position will flag.

The SEIU workers take their struggle personally: each of them is fighting for a principle, a right. Every action is a fight not just for their specific demands, but also an affirmation of their right, their duty, to protect the sacred act of demanding a fair deal. They struggle not just for themselves, but for those who cannot, those who have gone before, those who have lost and won in this struggle, and for those who will struggle in the future. The struggle is permanent, and in this moment we are called to make a stand. Not just on the Internet or reality programming, but for our own beliefs. Our own beliefs. The issue is quite simple. While we may all have notions of tactics or strategy or which gate to picket or whether to have Christmas lunch on Peter Chernin's front lawn, it all boils down to this: What are we striking for? What do we believe? Is our purpose singular and clear?

The companies don't attack us on this question, because it's the one question only we can answer. It's also the one question that will decide whether we win or lose. Do we believe that this struggle, this sacrifice we are all making, is worthy? Are we of one heart? One mind? Do we look at each other on the picket lines and see brothers and sisters? Is our belief strong enough to carry us through to the end?

Only we can know. The companies hope the answer is no, and they will wage a psychological war to make us think the answer is no. The companies will try to convince us that we do not believe. And each of us, as individuals, must decide. Because if the answer is no, we have already lost.

Belief is victory.

In peace and solidarity,


Saturday, December 01, 2007


More insightful emails passed on by my Shield buddy. This time from Stan Chervin and Kit Boss.


Dear Strike Team Members:

Since there was a lot of overlap of information given at the Captain's Meeting today and the Screenwriters' Meeting last night - not to mention the wealth of information sent to you by the WGA or available at - I'll summarize the main points of what I feel you may not be aware of.


Many of us consult Nikki Finke's website for any news or the latest updates. Clearly, the Companies know that. So for the first three days of negotiations last week they systematically and with great pre-meditation "leaked" to her news about their "revolutionary" new proposal and how it should resolve the strike quickly. She posted the information, we all read it, and when the Companies proposal turned out to be nothing more than the same cuts, rollbacks and unfair compensation they've been offering since July all of our hopes, dreams and expectations of a happy resolution to the strike were dashed.

THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT THE COMPANIES WANT!! They want to raise our expectations, then dash them, then hope we'll be so demoralized we'll accept whatever low ball offer they put on the table. Because that's what they've always done.

It's not going to work this time.

The Companies have always worked with (and succeeded) using one principle tactic: Divide and Conquer. Raise their hopes, crash them down - divide and conquer. Lower their expectations, throw them a bone - divide and conquer. Drive them down to their absolute bottom line, offer them a mere pittance above it, hope enough writers are desperate enough to accept it - divide and conquer. Tell membership their leaders are crazy or strike-happy - divide and conquer. Spread lies and rumors about "other" writers going back to work - divide and conquer. Use "pattern negotiation" to reach an agreement with another guild first - divide and conquer. Divide and Conquer is all they know.

If we never let them divide us, they will never conquer us again.

And I can tell you, from personal experience, Nikki Finke often gets stuff wrong. So, do not believe anything you hear - a rumor, a report on a web site, a tip from a knowledgeable friend, anything! - until you hear it from Patric Verone.


Patric Verone, John Bowman, David Young and everyone on the Negotiating Committee, the Board of Directors and the WGA staff know the importance of this contract. They are not going to accept a bad deal. They will stay at the table and negotiate for as long as it takes to get one. The first step, however, is for the Companies to make a serious and fair proposal. They are still waiting for that. One way to get that is to respond to their latest proposal with a strong show of unity on our part, renewed numbers on the picket line, a continued show of force by the showrunners, and further withholding of services.

There's a lot of gamesmanship to negotiating. Sometimes that means walking away from the table for a few days.

Have faith in the Negotiating Committee. They know that the Internet is the future, not just for the WGA, but for all unions in this town. They will never accept a bad deal.


We all know what it means to "win": a fair deal, a just contract, and, above all, we all go back to work. Because the end goal is so concrete and specific, we often lose sight of the fact that we are currently winning!

Here's what the strike has done so far:

- We have effectively shut down television production. Out of 180 television shows, only 12 are still in production

- Despite false rumors and lies spread by the Companies, the showrunners continue to deny services. At most, only ten have gone back to work. And, for every show runner who went back, four have fallen out. The show runners are not going back to work because there's nothing to go back to. We have effectively halted this season

- If the Companies do not reach a deal soon, they will lose NEXT season. They know that. The pressure is on them to make a deal.

[As a side note, no one can quite figure out why they haven't made a deal yet. Their continued refusal to make a realistic offer lacks any rationale or logic. Consider this: if CBS gave us EVERYTHING we asked for, it would cost them only $4.1 million for all of next year. Right now, they are losing $2 million a week. Go figure.]

- The advertisers are asking the networks for rebates, buy backs, discounts and CASH BACK! The strike has hurt the companies where they feel it the most - in their pocketbook. Even though they knew a strike was coming, the networks foolishly sold ad time at inflated rates. Now, they are paying the price. This is a direct result of the strike.

- Of the 150 features due to start filming in the next two quarters, upwards of 75 - almost half of them - are in danger of falling apart because of the strike. Major movies, like Angels and Demons, Pinkville, Nine, and State of Play have already fallen apart. Since many of these movies were in pre-production THE STRIKE COSTS THE COMPANIES MONEY TO SHUT THEM DOWN.

- Finally, and appropriately, the WGA denied the Academy Awards broadcast a waiver. This broadcast earns millions of dollars for ABC. Money that will be lost because the show cannot be written.


You hear a lot of talk on the line that if the AMPTP cannot make a deal with the WGA they will begin negotiating with the DGA, get them to take a lousy deal, then come back and force the WGA and SAG to take the same crappy deal.

It doesn't work that way.

First, the DGA isn't stupid. They see our strike is working. They know that whatever deal we get, they will get. They are willing to wait for us to make a good deal which they can then exploit. The same is true of SAG and the IA. These unions WANT us to get a good deal.

Second, if the DGA is stupid and makes a lousy deal, that same deal will not stick with the WGA or SAG. We will hold out for a fair and just contract.

Finally, 1,400 WGA members are also members of the DGA. That's more than 10% of their total membership, including some of their most prominent feature directors. These dual-members are binding together and speaking up to tell DGA leadership NOT to negotiate before we have a deal, and NOT accept a lesser deal.


Every day the Guild counts how many picketers are on the line. SO DO THE COMPANIES! If they see the numbers go down, they will believe it is a weakening of our resolve or a show of disunity.

The Negotiating Committee cannot bring the Companies to the table. They cannot get the Companies to make a fair offer. They cannot the get the Companies to bargain in good faith.

Only the members can do that. We are the backbone of the strike. We are the strength the Negotiating Committee needs to get the contract we deserve.

For them to do that, we need to continue to show up in big numbers. WE cannot fall victim to the Companies use of disinformation, of divide-and-conquer tactics, to lull us into the belief the strike is almost over so we can stay at home. We need to be on the line every day. As another member put it: "This is a strike, not a vacation."

Make sure you're out there, on the line, or working at the Guild headquarters. More importantly, if you know a writer who IS NOT picketing, make sure they are out there with you. Numbers count.


Over the last 20 years, the AMPTP has negotiated over a 100 contracts with the various unions that represent film and television talent. They have used the same techniques - raising hopes then dashing them, lowering expectations, divide and conquer - to win each of those negotiations.

IT IS NOT WORKING THIS TIME. It's not working because of all of you and all the hard work, commitment and unity you've demonstrated. As a result, they do not know what to do.

One reason for our strength and unity is communication. Because of the Strike Captain structure, an articulate leadership, professional staff, and the internet, WGA membership is extremely well-informed about the issues, about what's at stake, and just how bad the Companies' proposals have been. As long as we communicate and remain well-informed, we will win. We will only lose if we lose our unity and that will only happen if they keep us from talking to each other.

Have a great weekend and I'll see you on the picket line on Monday.

- Stan


Hey, Team Carpool:

Today's Captain's meeting -- where we heard from David Young, Patrick Verone and John Bowman -- was both inspiring and bracing, like a sharp slap on my taut, bare bottom from Marsh's cold hand.

I share with you these highlights, with liberal borrowing from the re-caps of other Captains who've done a lot of typing so I don't have to:

In a nutshell, this week's "negotiations" confirm that the studios are engaged in a giant MINDFUCK... their plan is to raise our expectation of a quick settlement (through press leaks, e.g., Nicki Finke), only to dash those hopes with wholly unacceptable proposals. It's an effort to make us despair and make us believe that our only hope for resolution is to quickly drop down to OUR BOTTOM LINE, of which they're only willing to give us a tiny fraction. Their hope is that we'll cave and accept a shitty deal. Apparently, it's a tried-and-true technique of the AMPTP over the last thirty years (and is corroborated by an internal AMPTP memo that the WGA has gotten hold of and hopes soon to publish). The message from our leadership: don't let their plan work, stay strong, and keep pounding the pavement.

I know some of you have started to doubt the efficacy of picketing for hours on end. I posed this question to David Young, who made it clear that pickets are still (for better or worse) the barometer by which the studios (and the world at large) judges our resolve. He is absolutely convinced that our show of force on the lots and locations is what drove them back to the negotiating table -- and that they are still watching us. Now, especially, for signs that our resolve is weakening and our unity may be ready to crumble.

Young's assessment: Our negotiation leverage is only as strong as our presence on the picket lines.

I know that the value of picketing isn't easily quantifiable or observable as cause-and-effect; and it requires a leap of faith to take David Young's word for something none of us can actually see with our own eyes.

But another captain, Alfredo Barrios, who has done both lot and location picketing over the last four weeks attests: "I believe that our show of force really plays on the executives' minds. Psychologically, I think it makes them uncomfortable and the idea that we will not back down starts to build in their minds... and trust me, they're afraid of a lengthy strike. They have a lot to lose -- the rest of this TV season, pilot season, and many, many features in various stages of development and pre-production."

Alfredo continues:

"Lately, studios have been deploying executives to location shoots to try to back us down from our picketing -- which has been reaping havoc on their productions. I have seen the look in the executives' eyes: they are fucking afraid and weary. And when we don't back down, they go back to their offices and tell their bosses. And we make it clear that we're gonna keep coming at them. Now, they're trying to defend against our location pickets by taking out fake permits, hiring extra security, locking off bigger sections of locations, etc. It is costing them money and lots of effort. And yet, we still find a way to get to them... And they keep wondering, when are they gonna stop fucking with us? That's pressure. That shows resolve. That translates into negotiation power. So... keep showing up. It matters. That's what will ultimately settle this thing for us... on our terms."

Next week, we'll maintain the same picket schedule that we followed this week, and avoid any changes that might cause confusion. The goal: Show the studios that we're as strong as ever, and we're not going to sit still while they try to bone us.

For those who want to read more about exactly how bad an ass-rape the studio's latest offer would amount to, and why we're taking a two-day break from bargaining, I encourage you to check out for the posting: Some Answers: Real Numbers, and what Really Happened in the Negotiations

Rest assured, Guild leadership is busy considering what should happen next, picket-wise. Strike co-ordinators will meet next Thursday to discuss (among other things) options such as consolidating our forces at fewer locations. Here at Universal, we'll be offering people a chance to take a break from the line for a few hours next week and get trained on location picketing, which figures to become much more important in the weeks to come.

Meanwhile, let's help each other try to even out the highs and lows of the emotional roller coaster the AMPTP is trying to make us ride. Don't believe the rumors (like the one that droves of showrunners are going back to work, when in fact the number amounts to only 10 out of more than 100 -- not enough to get the networks out of the pickle they're in). Try to keep a sense of humor. (The Captains have: After hearing about the 10 showrunners, someone shouted: "Who are they?” And then, when Verone and Bowman wouldn't name names: "C'mon. We just want to talk to them.") But also, stay pissed at the studios -- it makes those three hours of daily picketing FLY.

Also, I'm happy to report you can expect a few Christmas gifts to arrive early:

--Visits to every picket line at every studio on Monday from members of the negotiating committee or WGA board. A great chance to get your questions answered by the people who spent last week at the negotiating table.

--More t-shirts (including spiffy new styles available only at special events, such as a run of 2,000 for next Friday's Freemantle rally in Burbank, noon-2pm. You'll not only have a chance to get a new t-shirt, but strike a blow against the reality dreck that the networks will have to rely on to plug the gaps left by the shows we're shutting down, and exploits the people who write it.)

--More economic damage to the networks. Ad Age reports that they'll have to GIVE CASH BACK to their advertisers because the ratings for all that reality and re-runs will be so shitty, and they won't have enough inventory for make-goods.

--Direct pressure on advertisers from a group of more than 100,000 consumer activists that we can access through the data base of our sister unions and a scary piece of technology called "Robo-Call."

--No more news blackouts. WGA Prez Patric Verone promised. "Never again will we leave our members in the dark."

--No WGA waiver for writers to work on the Oscars telecast.

--A firecracker up Carson Daly's ass. And possibly a diseased partridge in a dry and brittle pear tree, too.

Until Monday,

- Kit