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Writers plan to divide, conquer

The union says it will approach studios about bargaining one by one. But it's unlikely that such a tactic would fly.

December 15, 2007|Richard Verrier and Claudia Eller | Times Staff Writers

Confronted with a logjam in its contract talks with the studios, the Writers Guild of America is trying a new tack: Divide and conquer.

On Monday, the union representing 10,500 striking writers plans to approach the major companies of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers about negotiating with them individually, a move aimed at exploiting perceived cracks in the alliance and getting at least some of the studios back to the bargaining table.

"We want to do everything in our power to move negotiations forward and end this devastating strike," the guild's negotiating committee said in a letter to be sent to union members today. "The internal dynamics of the [alliance] make it difficult for the conglomerates to reach consensus and negotiate with us on a give-and-take basis."

It appears unlikely, however, that the guild's ploy will get any traction with the alliance's member companies. Studio executives have previously said they would never agree to individual bargaining. A spokesman for the alliance declined to comment.

Although the alliance companies have different corporate makeups and often conflicting agendas, they have been firmly united against the union's central demands relating to how writers should be paid for work distributed on the Internet.

The guild's gambit comes a day after it filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that the alliance had negotiated in bad faith when it broke off talks Dec. 7 after the union refused a demand to take several issues off the table. The alliance called the filing baseless.

The alliance represents more than 350 movie and TV production companies but is dominated by companies controlled by seven media giants: Walt Disney Co., Time Warner Inc., Viacom Inc., General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal, News Corp., Sony Corp. and CBS Corp.

Guild leaders say they have been frustrated by the alliance's decades-old bargaining rules that make it difficult to reach consensus.

Under the National Labor Relations Act, the guild said, "each signatory employer is required to bargain with us individually if we make a legal demand that it do so."

In reaching out to individual companies, the guild hopes to take advantage of what it perceives to be divergent agendas of the alliance members, some of which are financially harder hit than others by the protracted strike.

"We believe this multi-employer structure inhibits individual companies from pursuing their self-interest in negotiations," the letter said.

CBS, for example, is highly dependent on advertising revenue from its broadcast network and TV stations. But 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures are part of larger companies and are less reliant on the entertainment industry -- and therefore are under less pressure to reach a quick settlement.

The guild's negotiating committee leaders plan to discuss the new strategy at a general membership meeting in Santa Monica on Monday night.

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