WGA STRIKE UPDATE: Talks Go On for Week 5

‘New Economic Partnership’ Proposal from AMPTP Fades Optimism from Earlier in the Week

The script for the fifth week of the writers’ strike has both sides returning to the table Dec. 4, but the way the fourth week ended, many feared that it will see a week six and beyond.

Representatives from the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers met for the first time this past week since the strike began Nov. 5. And despite a press blackout, the early word from both sides was a sense of optimism, as sources from both sides said early in the week that they felt a deal was possible by Friday. Industry insiders were even looking into how long it would take to ratify the deal and restart the television industry once an agreement shook out.

But by the end of the week, that post-Thanksgiving optimism and the media cease-fire had both given way yet again to fears that the strike would last past Christmas, when the WGA publicly dismissed the AMPTP’s latest proposal.

After the AMPTP put forth what it called a "New Economic Partnership" Nov. 29 that would increase the writers’ payouts by more than $130 million, the WGA responded by calling the proposal a "massive rollback."

Calling the AMPTP offer "dispiriting news," the WGA said publicly that the proposal only dealt with Internet streaming and made-for-Internet projects and "made absolutely no move on the download formula." The AMPTP is expected to offer additional proposals by Dec. 4 and, at some point, the WGA will counter.

After talks halted Thursday at the request of the WGA, the AMPTP said that while it "strongly preferred to continue discussions, we respect and understand the WGA’s desire to review the proposals."

Talk also began to swirl late in the week that the AMPTP could still turn to the Directors Guild of America and try to cut a deal with that organization in an attempt to gain leverage over the WGA.

Meanwhile, the WGA and ABC reached a tentative agreement on a new contract this past week after almost three years. The contract covers news writers, editors, desk assistants, production assistants, graphic artists and researchers, who had been working without a contract since January 2005.

According to the guild, they will get 3.5% annual raises and a $3,700 "contract bonus" for all full-time employees, as well as a pro-rated bonus for per-diem workers, if the contract is ratified by the rank and file. It will take effect immediately after it is ratified and extend through Feb. 1, 2010. It will be put to a vote by union members Dec. 13 at meetings in New York and Washington, D.C.

In other ABC union news, the network and NABET/CWA ended talks Friday with no agreement and no new meetings scheduled.

And the WGA and CBS News employees have been in contentious negotiations with the network for almost as long as the guild was with ABC -- since April 2005 -- but the prospects don’t look particularly bright. The guild recently received strike authorization, although it has not said when and whether it will use it.

For full coverage of the strike, click here.