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Writers Guild to cut workers amid shortfall

About 20 employees will be laid off, perhaps starting this week, to offset a $2-million budget hole.

March 17, 2009|Richard Verrier

Confronted with a growing budget deficit, the Writers Guild of America, West plans to cut about 20 positions by the end of the month.

The guild, which has about 185 employees, notified worker representatives last week that layoffs, which could begin this week, were needed to plug a budget hole of more than $2 million, said two people familiar with the matter. The union, which has 8,000 members, has annual operating expenses of about $25 million.

David Young, the union's executive director, recently told the guild's board that he was considering job cuts to close a budget shortfall, which guild officials have largely blamed on investment losses caused by the stock market decline and a sharp falloff in jobs and work for writers during the last year.

A guild representative declined to comment.

The layoffs can be directly tied to the tough times for Hollywood writers.

As scripted shows went dark during the 100-day writers strike last year, television networks beefed up production of reality programs -- which typically don't use union writers -- to fill the airwaves. That continued after the strike ended in February, creating fewer opportunities for writers. Some scripted shows didn't come back, while others returned with fewer episodes.

Writers also found it harder to command the same fees as they had in the past for work on network shows, which have been losing viewers to the Internet. More recently, the slowdown in work has been exacerbated by networks' ordering fewer pilots for new series.

All of which has meant less money rolling into the guild's coffers. The WGA's income depends on how much its members earn. Guild members, as part of their union dues, are required to contribute 1.5% of their earnings each quarter.

Also contributing to the budget shortfall, people familiar with the union's finances say, is the guild's ongoing campaign to organize writers in the reality TV sector who work behind the scenes crafting dialogue for programs. The guild spent about $400,000 on the drive last year, a person familiar with the situation said.

Some of the 20 positions could be eliminated through attrition, resulting in fewer layoffs. Affected employees will receive severance packages and a guarantee that they will be rehired if the union's finances improve.

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richard.verrier@latimes.com

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