In their first meeting since the strike began, Writers Guild of America and Hollywood studio negotiators hit the same stalemate over two key TV-related contract proposals from the guild as its work stoppage stretches into its fourth month.
A much anticipated meeting between WGA chief negotiator Ellen Stutzman and WGA West general counsel Tony Segall ran about an hour on Friday afternoon at the Sherman Oaks headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
Sources said the WGA duo made clear that the guild will not bend on proposals to establish minimum staffing levels in episodic TV and a guaranteed minimum number of weeks of employment. The AMPTP has called those proposals non-starters, and gave no indication on Friday that they’re prepared to change that position.
The SAG-AFTRA strike, which began on July 14, has added another complicating factor in negotiations with the writers.
Sources said Stutzman and Segall indicated that even if the WGA gets a deal, writers will still want to honor all picket lines. That would essentially mean that no one could return to work until both strikes are resolved.
That irked some on the management side, who saw that as adding an additional demand on top of the issues already on the table.
Representatives for the AMPTP and WGA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
On Friday night, the WGA sent a message to members responding to “studio-leaked rumors of the contents of the confidential meeting.”
The guild provided its own summary of the meeting, in which it confirmed that the studios remain “unwilling to engage” on the issues related to TV writers’ rooms. Additionally, the AMPTP is unwilling to discuss a viewership-based residual, which is another key concern for writers, among other issues.
“On behalf of the Guild, Ellen reiterated the expectation that all the fundamental issues over which writers have been striking these past three months would be addressed in this new contract, and that no segment of the membership would be left behind,” the guild stated.
The union also confirmed that it is seeking the right to honor other unions’ picket lines, which is a term currently provided in the Teamsters’ contract. In the meeting, Stutzman also raised issues arising from the strike, including an extension of health benefits and additional funding for the health plan.
According to the union, Carol Lombardini, the CEO of the AMPTP, said three times during the meeting: “People just want to get back to work.”
“We agree, with the caveat that those conditions that have made writers’ jobs increasingly untenable must first be addressed,” the union stated.
A source close to the situation said the sides expect to be back in communication in the coming days after WGA and AMPTP leaders discuss Friday’s gathering with their respective constituencies. A source described the mood in the AMPTP meeting room as a little stiff, but not so tense that near-term negotiations are impossible.
Many in the industry had high hopes that Friday’s small-group meeting would lead to WGA and AMPTP agreeing to restart formal contract negotiations.
The WGA and AMPTP last met on May 1, when negotiations broke down as it became clear the sides were too far apart on line-in-the-sand issues around the union’s demand to set minimum staffing levels as well as minimum weeks of employment for TV series work.
The WGA sought to manage members’ expectations going into Friday’s meeting. The guild sent a message to members late Thursday with pointed language describing the AMPTP’s overriding goal in requesting the meeting.
“Give the town hope, soften us up, and try to use the suffering of other workers and businesses to pressure us to settle. Get us to throw away the power we have collectively accumulated and make us accept a bad deal,” the committee stated. “It is all part of the playbook. Every move they make at the bargaining table and every rumor away from it needs to be evaluated through the lens of their attempts to get us to accept less.”
The AMPTP responded quickly, calling the rhetoric “unfortunate.”
“This strike has hurt thousands of people in this industry, and we take that very seriously. Our only playbook is getting people back to work,” the AMPTP said.
Karen Bass, the mayor of Los Angeles, called on Friday for an “immediate” resolution of the strikes, emphasizing the economic damage incurred already.
“The impact has spanned every corner of Los Angeles — from the writers and actors on the picket line trying to make ends meet to keep a roof over their head and food on the table, to businesses who rely on the entertainment industry,” Bass said.
She offered to get personally involved if it would help resolve the dispute.