Hollywood heaves a sigh of relief. The WGA and major studios and streamers have reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year contract that promises to end the 146-day strike that has taken a heavy toll across the content industry.
Negotiators for the Writers Guild of America and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers reached the finish line Sunday after five consecutive days of negotiations. Day 4 on Saturday mostly involved lawyers for the guild and AMPTP hashing out the fine print of language around complicated and groundbreaking additions to the WGA’s Minimum Basic Agreement. The nitty-gritty details of language around the use of generative AI in content production was one of the last items that the sides worked on before closing the pact.
“We can say, with great pride, that this deal is exceptional – with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership,” the WGA’s negotiating committee wrote in an email to sent to members at 7:10 p.m. PT (Full text below).
The strike itself will still be in force through the guild’s contract approval and ratification process. But picketing has been suspended as of Sunday night. Guild leaders are expected to vote on Tuesday on whether to formally lift the strike order against AMPTP signatories.
“To be clear, no one is to return to work until specifically authorized to by the Guild. We are still on strike until then,” the message to members stated.
Details of the contract agreement won’t be released until the final language is completed over the coming days. WGA leadership expects to vote on Tuesday on the final pact. First the negotiating committee will vote on whether to recommend that the deal go to a vote of the board of the WGA West and council of WGA East. Assuming both of those votes approve the pact, the contract will be sent out for ratification by WGA’s 11,000 members.
“Though we are eager to share the details of what has been achieved with you, we cannot do that until the last ‘i’ is dotted,” the message to members stated. “To do so would complicate our ability to finish the job. So, as you have been patient with us before, we ask you to be patient again – one last time.”
After nearly five months on strike – the work stoppage began May 2 – it’s highly likely to pass muster with members, especially with the enthusiastic endorsement of WGA leaders. As momentum built this week, negotiators began to look at the approach of the Yom Kippur holiday on Sunday as a soft target deadline.
No doubt – the WGA prevailed in forcing Hollywood’s largest employers to address the guild’s major priorities in the first full-fledged contract negotiation since 2017 (the 2020 talks were hampered by the pandemic). The guild’s insistence in achieving a minimum guaranteed staff level for episodic TV was considered an extreme long-shot when the contract discussions began in March. The unwavering support of the vast majority of WGA members was the muscle that allowed the guild’s negotiating committee, led by Chris Keyser and David Goodman, to dig in on priority issues. They achieved a new-model streaming residual formula that should help fellow striking union SAG-AFTRA in its quest to achieve a revenue-based residual. The WGA’s formula amounts to a bonus system based on pre-determined, high-bar performance benchmarks for individual titles. But it’s nonetheless more than industry dealmakers predicted the guild would secure when the first round of WGA-AMPTP talks began in earnest last spring.
The end of the WGA strike will hasten the end of SAG-AFTRA’s walkout. It will also start the process of returning the creative community to its typical cycles of production, distribution, marketing and promotion cycle for content. Production of TV and film has been in state of turmoil since the start of the year when production slowed down in the face of the May 1 deadline set by the WGA’s contract expiration. It was no secret as early as last year that the 2023 round of guild contract negotiations would be challenging, given the level of structural change across TV and film.
Hollywood is eager to get back to work. But after a five-month pause in production, studios and streamers will need time to get shows and movies back on their feet. As word of progress at the negotiating table spread earlier this week, quiet planning for a return to production stepped up with producers and executives inquiring about the availability of stages and other production resources.
The sides returned to the bargaining table Sept. 20 after talks had stalled for a month. Four key Hollywood leaders participated in three days of marathon negotiations that finally broke the logjam. The executives: Disney’s Bob Iger, NBCUniversal’s Donna Langley, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos and David Zaslav of Warner Bros. Discovery.
The AMPTP first attempted to address the guild’s demands for a viewership residual and minimum staffing guarantee in a proposal on Aug. 11. The WGA maintained that the offer was riddled with loopholes and exceptions that made many of its provisions meaningless.
The AMPTP returned Sept. 20 with another set of proposals, which it hoped would break the logjam.
Once Labor Day came and went, WGA negotiating committee co-chairs Chris Keyser and David Goodman faced heightened internal pressure from some prominent members to restart the negotiations process. Now that a deal with the WGA is in hand, AMPTP negotiators will turn their attention to SAG-AFTRA, which has been on strike since July 14. Production and promotion cannot fully restart until SAG-AFTRA members vote to ratify a new agreement.
The WGA Negotiating Committee issued a lengthy statement to members confirming that the tentative pact had been clinched.
Here is the full text:
We have reached a tentative agreement on a new 2023 MBA, which is to say an agreement in principle on all deal points, subject to drafting final contract language.
What we have won in this contract – most particularly, everything we have gained since May 2nd – is due to the willingness of this membership to exercise its power, to demonstrate its solidarity, to walk side-by-side, to endure the pain and uncertainty of the past 146 days. It is the leverage generated by your strike, in concert with the extraordinary support of our union siblings, that finally brought the companies back to the table to make a deal.
We can say, with great pride, that this deal is exceptional – with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership.
What remains now is for our staff to make sure everything we have agreed to is codified in final contract language. And though we are eager to share the details of what has been achieved with you, we cannot do that until the last “i” is dotted. To do so would complicate our ability to finish the job. So, as you have been patient with us before, we ask you to be patient again – one last time.
Once the Memorandum of Agreement with the AMPTP is complete, the Negotiating Committee will vote on whether to recommend the agreement and send it on to the WGAW Board and WGAE Council for approval. The Board and Council will then vote on whether to authorize a contract ratification vote by the membership.
If that authorization is approved, the Board and Council would also vote on whether to lift the restraining order and end the strike at a certain date and time (to be determined) pending ratification. This would allow writers to return to work during the ratification vote, but would not affect the membership’s right to make a final determination on contract approval.
Immediately after those leadership votes, which are tentatively scheduled for Tuesday if the language is settled, we will provide a comprehensive summary of the deal points and the Memorandum of Agreement. We will also convene meetings where members will have the opportunity to learn more about and assess the deal before voting on ratification.
To be clear, no one is to return to work until specifically authorized to by the Guild. We are still on strike until then. But we are, as of today, suspending WGA picketing. Instead, if you are able, we encourage you to join the SAG-AFTRA picket lines this week.
Finally, we appreciated your patience as you waited for news from us — and had to fend off rumors — during the last few days of the negotiation. Please wait for further information from the Guild. We will have more to share with you in the coming days, as we finalize the contract language and go through our unions’ processes.
As always, thank you for your support. You will hear from us again very soon.
WGA NEGOTIATING COMMITTEE
David A. Goodman, Co-Chair
Chris Keyser, Co-Chair
Ellen Stutzman, Chief Negotiator
Patric M. Verrone
Meredith Stiehm, WGAW President
Michele Mulroney, WGAW Vice President
Betsy Thomas, WGAW Secretary-Treasurer
Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, WGAE President
Erica Saleh, WGAE Vice President of Film/TV/Streaming
Christopher Kyle, WGAE Secretary-Treasurer
From Variety US