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Showbiz rivals clash on strike rule

October 12, 2007|Richard Verrier | Times Staff Writer

In an untimely display of union infighting, the head of the alliance representing Hollywood's technical workers publicly rebuked the leaders of the Writers Guild of America, West on Thursday over proposed strike rules.

Thomas C. Short, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, blasted a strike rule recently adopted by the guild that prohibits its members from starting work on new animated features once a strike begins, including those working under an agreement with another guild.

Although the Writers Guild has contracts for prime-time animated TV shows including "The Simpsons," most animated features are covered under Animation Guild Local 839, which is part of Short's alliance.

"The Animation Guild has represented writers for 55 years," Short wrote in a letter to Patric Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America, West. "I consider it outrageous for the [Writers Guild] to consider violating trade union principles by taking action against individuals performing services under the jurisdiction of another union."

Short warned that his union was prepared to take legal action if the Writers Guild "follows through with the threat" to prohibit its members from working on animated features.

Verrone, an animation writer whose credits include the TV series "Futurama" and "Rugrats," has made organizing writers in animation a high priority, putting himself squarely at odds with Short.

"Members of the Writers Guild write the overwhelming majority of animated feature films," Verrone said. "We will not allow the employers to take advantage of our writers to produce this work during a strike. Honoring picket lines is a fundamental trade union principle."

Nonetheless, the rule could create a real dilemma for animation writers who belong to both unions. A dual member who chooses to work under the Animation Guild agreement would be crossing the picket line in the eyes of the Writers Guild, risking fines and loss of membership.

"When somebody is performing work under a union's jurisdiction and contract, I don't believe that any other union has the right to punish members for performing that work," said Steven Hulett, business agent for the Animation Guild. "I don't think this holds water."

The unions clashed several years ago over organizing animation writers at the cable network Nickelodeon and on NBC's now-defunct "Father of the Pride."

The dispute comes at a delicate time for the Writers Guild, which is in the midst of negotiating a three-year contract with producers to replace one that expires Oct. 31. The two sides have made little headway, leading many to believe that writers could strike for the first time in nearly 20 years next month.

Short's remarks are the latest round in a long-running battle with guild leaders. Short also has accused guild leaders of stepping on his union's toes by seeking to organize editors who work in reality TV. Editors have historically been represented by Short's group. Writers, however, contend that editors function as storytellers.

Short also has accused the guild's leadership of destabilizing production in Hollywood by refusing to begin negotiations with producers earlier in the year.

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richard.verrier@latimes.com

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