Wednesday, December 12, 2007


This is the shit that gives me hope. Rational, tempered analysis. The following is a letter by Strike Captain Steve Skrovan. Steve writes: I know this has been a discouraging week. But I’ve been talking to a lot of people over the weekend and hope this will shed some light on what has been going on. We still have cards to play, and we still have leverage. Hard to believe, but we are still in a better negotiating position than we were on November 4th.
The first point is that none of this has to do with personalities. It is strictly about pure economic interest and negotiating strategy. That’s the grown up stuff. Anything else is high school bullshit and demagoguery. What you hear about David Young being in over his head and Patric Verrone being crazy is a not so thinly veiled attempt to separate the rank and file from the leadership. There are two reasons I believe this. One: you don’t have to be a genius to negotiate a contract. Two: These people would do a deal with the devil (and in some cases have) if they thought it was to their advantage. I no longer believe that the AMTPT wants to break the union. We provide too many services to them, a stable workforce, a single negotiating entity, and the copyright to all that we write (which we gave up in 1960 in order to get health, pension, and residuals in the first place). What they want is a weak union, which is what we have been; one that provides all of these services, but then rolls over at bargaining time. What “enraged” them and surprised them is that they haven’t been able to roll us over this time. They don’t want us want us acting like a real union. Because a real union makes gains by being an adversary. That’s the nature of the relationship between management and labor. For many of us, it’s uncomfortable to be in this position. We tend to work closely with management, more than in other unions. We go to the same parties and awards shows. We leave the adversary stuff to our agents. We are not used to being adversaries and they are not used to us being adversaries. This strike has set them back on their heels. They didn’t anticipate our power to organize and our power to win the PR battle. Are the reality and animation issues getting in the way? Not really. The companies are hiding behind that in an effort to get us to pull them from the table. Our leadership is aware that we are not striking over reality and animation. Especially since, as Mike Scully points out, the actual reality writers are still working as we strike. These are bargaining chips. These are negotiable. In fact, I have it on good authority that four CEOs told our people that they are ready to lay the groundwork for something on reality. This is something they are motivated to deal with us on for their own protection. There are a lot of illegal labor practices going on in that realm, which make the companies vulnerable to lawsuits. Our people are meeting with California attorney general Jerry Brown this week to discuss these issues. This is an important chip, but it will not hold up a deal on new media. I talked to a labor expert this weekend (not in our industry). He told me that basic negotiating strategy dictates that you bring as much to the table as possible, things you don’t even care about so much. It “enrages” the other side. That’s actually a good thing. You then make a big show of taking it off to leverage the thing you really want. This is the game being played. I assume that when we are assured that the companies are ready to deal with us on new media seriously, then we will pull that chip. But, I assure you that we are striking about new media, nothing else. My personal interpretation of what happened on Friday was that our side was discussing which of these things to pull off (we couldn’t pull all of them off, because some of them struck at the heart of our new media proposal) when Nick Counter stomped out at 6:05 so we wouldn’t have a chance to call his bluff. This is what was discouraging to our people, because it confirmed their worst fear, which is that this week’s negotiating was mostly a charade. (If you’re heading toward a deal, why hire a PR firm to spin bad news your way? More on this later) Our people were ready to negotiate all night. They had brought changes of clothes and toothbrushes . The AMPTP left at 6:05 and released their lengthy prepared statement at 6:06. Apparently, there actually were some substantive discussions about formulas for streaming. Some progress was made, thin little slices, but ultimately it was an attempt to get us to reveal our bottom line. And when we didn’t do that, they stormed out in a huff. It was not in our interest to reveal our bottom line because they were nowhere near revealing there’s. What has become apparent is that the AMPTP doesn’t want to deal with us at all. We are too unified. They haven’t been able to split us off from the leadership or each other. In the past, they have been able to drive wedges between screenwriters and TV writers, between show runners and staff writers, between East and West. It’s not working this time and it frustrates them. They are getting bad press and losing money. They need to find a different wedge. That’s why they want to deal with the DGA. This is what is behind all of the denigrating (“They are incapable of doing a deal.”) of David Young and Patric Verrone. Historically, the DGA has always negotiated early and gotten certain side perks from the companies for doing so. I don’t believe that Michael Apted, Gil Cates and Executive Dir. Jay Roth are able to do this because they are so charming. They are able to do this because their needs are simpler. If the DGA had negotiated before us they probably would have accepted the old DVD formula for new media. That would have been a bad deal. Our strike has made it impossible for them to go that low. I have been assured that if they could do a deal, they would have done it already. But, they haven’t. They are in a key position, but they have a dilemma. They would have to do a deal that is not only acceptable to the AMPTP, but also acceptable to us. They want to keep their people working, but with no scripts they have nothing to direct. They have a decision to make. Hold off and let us do the deal or jump in and have to come up with a formula that pleases both parties. That’s a lot of pressure. Frankly, no one on our side cares where the deal comes from. If the AMPTP wants to save face by dealing with the DGA, that’s fine, as long as it’s a good deal. If we have to be the bad cop, then so be it. Our strike has already made a better deal possible. We continue to reach out to the DGA, which hasn’t been easy in the past. (Apparently, the DGA withdrew from the tri-guild talks in June and has been playing it close to the vest ever since.) Our relationship with them has been testy at best with probably blame for that on both sides. But again, the real testiness is over economics, not personalities. A group of WGA/DGA screenwriters have already met with the DGA leadership and delivered a letter urging them to hold off. I heard they got a stern talking to by the DGA leadership over timing, style issues and past slights, but I have to think it had an effect. We share 1800 members. Also, spurred on by those hypenates, our leadership will be meeting with the DGA this week to get a better understanding of where exactly they stand. A deal is still possible within the next ten days if the companies are serious about saving the current TV season. They are still not unified. Sony and CBS are the definite moderates. Chernin at Fox is a hardliner. It’s the same pattern. When a key decision has to be made, they fall back on the hard line so that no one can be accused of being the one to give up anything. They have to make sure they fuck each other before they fuck us. What does this mean for us? Unfortunately, we have to hit the streets again this week. As abstract as it seems, it remains the source of our strength. It is particularly important to demonstrate to the DGA that we will not accept a bad deal if they decide to start negotiating. I am confident that we will continue to win the PR war. They hired this firm Fabiani and Lehane, which to me is laughable. They are going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for a PR firm that is going up against the best writers and actors in the country. We are definitely playing a home game here. I have a hard time believing that writers from The Daily Show, Colbert, Letterman, the Tonight Show, SNL, Raymond, Seinfeld, Frasier, King of Queens, The Office, The Simpsons, 30 Rock, Knocked Up, you name it are going to get their asses kicked by fucking Fabiani and Lehane. Are you kidding me? This is the firm that has won so many elections for the Democratic Party. And what’s the first thing they do? Instead of referring to our committee as negotiators, they call them “organizers.” That’s a bad thing. To be organized. That’s the worst thing they could call us. Organizers. It’s meant to suggest that our leadership is good at organizing but not negotiating. They are trying to do to the word “organizer” what the right has done to the word “liberal.” Nice try. Why didn’t they just call them “communists?” The WGA communists. At least that has some negative connotation. But it just shows that our strength has been our organization and our organization is manifest on the picket lines. They don’t think we have the guts or the stamina to keep hitting those picket lines. Yes, it was discouraging to realize that we’re negotiating with Voldemort. This is not going to be easy. We cannot give up. We cannot leave it to others. I hate to have to give this pep talk every weekend. But, we have to show the AMPTP, and now more than ever the DGA, that we are not going away, that we will not be bullied. To paraphrase Woody Allen, 99% of this strike is showing up.

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