The Writers Guild of America strike against film and television companies began its 11th day today with two hours of picketing planned as producers and writers awaited Monday night's West Coast guild vote on a proposed contract.
The picketing, the first since the walkout began March 5, is scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m. at CBS' Television City.
The guild estimated that 2,000 writers would join today's picketing. A recorded guild strike-update phone message said that "all members are required to participate" in the picketing and that members must sign in when they arrive. Guild members who do not show up for picketing without a reasonable excuse or who do not sign up for alternate picketing duty "would be fined and be subject to disciplinary action," a spokeswoman said. She did not specify the amount of the fine or the nature of disciplinary action. An unnamed guild member said that the fine would be $250.
Leonard Farrell, the federal mediator who helped bring about a tentative agreement, said Wednesday he was surprised that the L.A. guild decided Monday night to delay what would have been a final contract vote.
"In a sense, yes, I was (surprised)," said Farrell. "I thought we had an agreement that looked solid to the parties. And I felt that with the union's agreement to recommend it--which is very usual--it had a very good chance of passing."
He spoke after a brief closed-door meeting Wednesday with Naomi Gurian, executive director of the guild's West Coast branch, and Nicholas J. Counter III, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. None would say what was discussed.
In an interview after the session with Farrell, Counter said that the alliance was "disappointed that the balloting was delayed, and the strike continued, because we had negotiated an agreement to end the strike."
The postponement came after a raucous guild meeting at the Hollywood Palladium Monday night. After four hours of heated argument, the meeting was recessed until 8 p.m. Monday and a vote count delayed until then. At that time, those who already voted may reverse their original vote or leave their ballot unchanged. Anyone who hadn't voted will be able to cast a ballot.
Before the Monday meeting, a guild spokesman had said that guild negotiators would recommend approval of the contract and predicted that the members would quickly ratify it. As it turned out, that was not the case.
Guild President Ernest Lehman said that most of the opposition to the contract came from writers angered that guild negotiators had agreed to drop arbitration on a major issue--the writers' share of profits from prerecorded videocassettes.
Some guild members said that another key factor in the opposition was Gurian's announcement at the meeting that part of the tentative settlement called for guild negotiators to recommend approval of the new three-year contract.
There was nothing unusual in agreeing to recommend approval, insisted Frank Pierson, co-chairman of the negotiating committee. He said that those who booed Gurian's announcement probably were unfamiliar with the bargaining process.
"I'm sure it sounded to them as if we were forced (by the alliance) to recommend approval," he said. Pierson said the committee's majority assent was only "a negotiating formality. It wasn't as if they (the alliance) were putting handcuffs on us," he added.
In agreeing to recommend approval of the contract, he explained, "it was our best judgment that it was as good as we were going to get."
Pierson and Counter differed on whether the alliance asked for the guild committee's favorable recommendation as a condition of the tentative settlement.
"No, we didn't do that," Counter said. "We simply reached an agreement. And once that was done, we assumed that they (guild negotiators) would recommend it (the contract). And they later indicated that they would."
Pierson quoted Counter as saying, " 'We offer you this contract with the understanding that the negotiating committee will recommend it to the membership.' And that's what we agreed to."
Pierson called the tentative agreement a far cry from the alliance's first contract offer on Feb. 28--which was rejected by guild members. "It's not like the last time, when they (the alliance) said 'take it or leave it,' " he said.
Asked if a majority of guild negotiators might rescind their recommendation of the contract before Monday's vote, Pierson said, "I doubt it very much."