Answer the questions to the case, “Negotiating with the Writers Guild of America,” at the end of Chapter 9. Explain your answers in 200 words.
Case Incident: Negotiating with the Writers Guild of America
The talks between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (producers) began tense in 2007, and then got tenser. In their first meeting, the two sides got nothing done. As Law & Order producer Dick Wolf said, “Everyone in the room is concerned about this.”71
The two sides were far apart on just about all the issues. However, the biggest issue was how to split revenue from new media, such as when television shows move on to DVDs or the Internet. The producers said they wanted a profit-splitting system rather than the current residual system. Under the residual system, writers continue to receive “residuals,” or income from shows they write, every time they’re shown (such as when the Jerry Seinfeld show appears in reruns, years after they shot the last original show). Writers Guild executives did their homework. They argued, for instance, that the projections showed producers’ revenues from advertising and subscription fees jumped by about 40% between 2002 and 2006.72
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The situation grew tenser. After the first few meetings, one producers’ representative said, “we can see after the dogfight whose position will win out. The open question there, of course, is whether each of us takes several lumps at the table, reaches an agreement then licks their wounds later—none the worse for wear—or whether we inflict more lasting damage through work stoppages that benefit no one before we come to an agreement.”73 Even after meeting six times, it seemed that, “the parties’ only apparent area of agreement is that no real bargaining has yet to occur.”74
In October 2007, the Writers Guild asked its members for strike authorization, and the producers were claiming that the guild was just trying to delay negotiations until the current contract expired (at the end of October). As the president of the television producers association said, “We have had six across the table sessions and there was only silence and stonewalling from the WGA leadership…. The WGA leadership apparently has no intention to bargain in good faith.”75 As evidence, the producers claimed that the WGA negotiating committee left one meeting after less than an hour at the bargaining table.
Both sides knew timing in these negotiations was crucial. During the fall and spring, television series production is in full swing. So a strike now by the writers would have a bigger impact than waiting until, say, the summer to strike. Perhaps not surprisingly, by January 2008, some movement was discernible. In a separate set of negotiations, the Directors Guild of America reached an agreement with the producers that addressed many of the issues that the writers were focusing on, such as how to divide the new media income.76 In February 2008, the WGA and producers finally reached agreement. The new contract was “the direct result of renewed negotiations between the two sides, which culminated Friday with a marathon session including top WGA officials and the heads of the Walt Disney Co. and News Corp.”77
The producers said the WGA was not bargaining in good faith. What did they mean by that, and do you think the evidence is sufficient to support the claim?
The WGA did eventually strike. What tactics could the producers have used to fight back once the strike began? What tactics do you think the WGA used?
This was a conflict between professional and creative people (the WGA) and TV and movie producers. Do you think the conflict was therefore different in any way than are the conflicts between, say, the auto workers or Teamsters unions against auto and trucking companies? Why?
What role (with examples, please) did negotiating skills seem to play in the WGA-producers negotiations?