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Writers Guild Approves Pact in 83.7% Vote

August 08, 1988|KENNETH J. GARCIA | KENNETH J. GARCIA, Times Staff Writer

The nation's screenwriters will go back to work today after the approval of a new four-year contract Sunday that ends the crippling 154-day strike by the Writers Guild of America, the longest walkout in film industry history.

Guild officials meeting at the Hollywood Palladium said the new pact was approved by 83.7% of the writers who voted on the proposal in New York and Los Angeles. The official tally was 2,111 for, 412 against. Only about 300 guild members voted in New York.

Negotiators for the 9,600-member guild said they were elated to bring an end to the costly strike, which forced layoffs at many studios, threatened to make a shambles of the fall television season and brought financial hardship to thousands of industry workers.

"It would have been nice to have this thing settled long ago, but we have a much better contract today than I thought we ever would," said Brian Walton, chief guild negotiator. "If you want to think in terms of winners and losers, maybe we were all winners and losers. The strike, by and large, was unnecessary and it went on far too long."

FOR THE RECORD - In a story Monday about the Writers Guild ratification vote, The Times incorrectly stated that guild board director Allan Manings asked guild members to punish 21 union members who had threatened to return to work prior to the contract settlement. In fact, Manings did not ask that the members be punished.

The strike paralyzed the film industry for more than five months and has forced the networks to push back the start of the fall television season to October, or later, and has halted production on some motion pictures.

Walton estimated that the walkout cost the film industry $200 million in lost revenues.

Despite the happiness expressed by most film writers Sunday, the protracted walkout left ill feelings among many guild members. Some of the bitterness spilled over during the voting at the Palladium.

A shouting match between Allan Manings, guild board director, and other members broke out after Manings asked them to punish 21 union members who threatened to break away and return to work. Manings had started to read the writers names off a sheet titled "The Scab 21" when he was booed by guild members.

"It's morally objectionable," said comedy writer Ted Lang. "A person has a basic right not to agree and all they've done is express that right. I can't believe that they would try and punish someone for that. It's incredible."

In New York, Ed Adler, president of the 3,100-member Writers Guild of America East, was asked about rumors that there had been a split in the guild leadership last week over the tentative strike settlement. He said no one in the leadership wanted to keep the walkout going.

"We have what the leadership likes to call a noble dissent, the noble opposition," he said. "There was a lot of feeling about keeping the companies out longer until we got what we really wanted . . . .."

The breakthrough in the bitter walkout came last week after an all-night bargaining session between negotiators for the guild and the 200-member Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The talks, aided by a federal mediator, resolved the impasse over payments to writers for programs sold overseas.

In the crucial segment of the new contract, writers agreed to a new formula for calculating payments, called residuals, they receive when reruns of one-hour television programs are sold for syndication in the United States. The new formula, based on a percentage of sales, reflects a drop in the syndication market for one-hour shows.

The writers won the right to submit to binding arbitration their request for a return to the existing fixed-payment residual formula if the syndication market improves. Under the current system, a writer's residual for a one-hour show is about $16,000. Under the new system, it could be as low as half that for a show with weak syndication sales, or 50% more for a hit.

On residuals for shows sold to foreign countries, writers won the right to choose between the current system, which pays a maximum of about $4,400 for a one-hour show, or a new formula that would pay 1.2% of the producers' foreign sales of a program, as long as that is not less than 85% or more than 130% of the current residual.

The contract also calls for increases in minimum pay of 5% in the first 18 months. For instance, the current $18,000 fee for a one-hour script for a prime time series will increase by about $900. In the next 18 months the rate will increase by another 5%, and by 4.5% in the fourth year of the contract. The pact also includes provisions making it easier for writers to reacquire scripts if a studio does not produce them, and the guild's first agreement covering shows produced for basic cable services such as the Arts & Entertainment and USA networks.

"I don't know if we gained that much monetarily, but we've gained a tremendous amount of solidarity," said George Kirgo, president of the Writers Guild of America West. "It's time to get back to work."

The strike began March 7. The previous mark for the industry's longest strike was a 153-day walk-out by the guild in 1960. The guild had a two-week strike in 1985, and stayed out for 13 weeks in 1981.

In a prepared statement, J. Nicholas Counter III, chief negotiator for the producers, said he is pleased with the agreement, adding that "unprecedented advances" were reached in the new contract. "With this agreement, we have realized our bargaining objectives while addressing the WGA's concerns."

"I imagine there are going to be wheelbarrows filled with scripts delivered [to agents] tomorrow," said writer Mark Slade. "It's been a long 22 weeks and I know that everybody is anxious to get back to work. This thing has hit hard on all sides."


Times staff writer Jay Sharbutt in New York contributed to this article.

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