UPDATED: Hollywood moved a step closer to an industry-crippling writers’ strike tonight when the WGA West’s board of directors approved sending strike authorization ballots to the guild’s members. Tonight’s vote came at the unanimous recommendation of the WGA negotiating committee, which broke off contract talks with management’s AMPTP on Friday. The WGA East’s council will vote tomorrow to send strike authorization ballots to their members.
Earlier tonight, the WGA West told its members that once approved, the strike authorization vote will be held through online voting and at special membership meetings sometime in April. The vote would be concluded by April 24 or 25 – a week before the May 1 expiration of the current film and TV contract.
“If the members approve strike authorization,” the guild said, “that simply means the board and council, in consultation with the negotiating committee, are authorized to call a strike. Obviously, the leadership’s decision of whether to go on strike depends on its assessment of the members’ support and the overall strategic situation. The board and council control the timing, provided that the strike cannot begin until after the contract expires on midnightMay 1. The timing, of course, depends on what’s going on at the negotiating table – the goal, of course, is always to get a deal.”
The votes of the board and council are pro forma steps in the dance they go through to show management that guild leaders have the support of their members if they deem a strike is necessary to achieve a fair contract.
Strike authorization ballots are expected to go out early next week, at which time guild members are expected to vote overwhelmingly to give the board and council the authority to call a strike if further negotiations fail to produce a fair contract. And then the guilds’ negotiators will have just one week to work out a deal.
Both labor and management have said that they intend to return to the bargaining table after the strike authorization vote is conducted.
“The WGA broke off negotiations at an early stage in the process in order to secure a strike vote rather than directing its efforts at reaching an agreement at the bargaining table,” management’s Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said after talks broke off Friday. “Keeping the industry working is in everyone’s best interests, and we are ready to return to negotiations when they are.”
The WGA wrote in a letter to members on Friday: “The package, taken as a whole, is unacceptable – and we would be derelict in our duty if we accepted it… We are committed to continue negotiating with the companies in good faith to get you the deal we all deserve.”
The WGA blamed the companies for rejecting virtually every one of their proposals to improve the lot of film and TV writers and to rescue the guilds’ ailing health plan. After two weeks of bargaining, the WGA said, “The companies’ proposal has barely a single hard-dollar gain for writers.”
Clearly, if that doesn’t change, there will be a strike – the guilds’ first since the 100-day strike of 2007-08.