Stagehand strike boss lashes out at striking writers

With his rank and file workers losing their pay checks by the thousands, the head of Hollywood’s largest crafts workers union, representing everyone from grips to cameramen, angrily charged Wednesday that the Writer’s Guild always intended to bring on this strike.

“It now seems that you were intending that there be a strike no matter what you were offered or what conditions the industry faced when your contract expired at the end of October,” International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees President Thomas Short wrote to WGA President Patrick Verrone on Wednesday.

The latest salvo from Short lobbed at the WGA isn’t a surprise; they have been in a war of words for months. However, it is another indication of the spreading pain being caused by the strike. . “Thousands are losing their jobs every day,” wrote Short. “The IATSE alone has over 50,000 members working in motion picture, television and broadcasting and tens of thousands more are losing jobs in related fields.”

While the WGA has gotten strong support from the Screen Actors Guild, surprising support from the Teamsters, watered down support from AFTRA and a limp handshake from the Director’s Guild of America, it has been blasted by Short and IATSE for being an elite group that does not care how many other people it puts out of work.

The animosity between the two groups goes even deeper. The WGA has been trying to organize animation writers. Based on past history, in some cases, the IA considers that its territory; and there has been sparring over jurisdiction. In some cases the threat to organize by WGA has led to IA signing a company. The IA contract is far less expensive and easier to manage for the companies and unlike the WGA, doesn’t require the same schedule of residuals.

Short made his case that the WGA planned to strike all along by noting he had called Verrone in November 2006, after the writers guild said it would not hold early talks with management. Short now says that was a mistake, and an indication that Verrone had a closed mind.

“Ever since late last year when the WGAw announced withdrawal from its own proposed negotiating date in January 2007, I have warned you and predicted the devastation that would come from your actions,” wrote Short. “Those predictions have now come true.”

Short predicted the strike will cost the movie and TV industry over $1 billion and result in “the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

He charged that WGA Executive Director David Young is inexperienced and that “his incompetence and inexperience are causing irreparable damage to the industry at a time when “we can all ill afford to ignore the worsening national economy, the unstable international climate and the crises in health care and the housing market that are affecting many of our working families.”

Short quotes Young in the L.A. Times saying, “I just lay back and look at the havoc I’ve wreaked…I’m not going to apologize for that.” Short says “This is hardly the point of view of a responsible labor leader, someone dedicated to the preservation of an industry that has supported the economies of several major cities for decades.”

Verrone responded with his own letter to Short, also made public Wednesday, asking for solidarity, but not addressing Short’s barbed comments directly: “As I’m sure you know, for every four cents writers receive in theatrical residuals, directors receive four cents, actors receive 12 cents, and the members of your union receive 20 cents in contributions to their health fund,” wrote Verrone. “To put it simply, our fight should be your fight. We’ve received support from the Teamsters, the actors, many IATSE members, and unions throughout the world.”

Verrone said the WGA wants to come back to the table and work out a deal. “Despite the fact that the AMPTP conceded progress was being made on November 4th, the last day of negotiations,” wrote Verrone, “they walked out and have not returned.”

Verrone signed his letter, “In solidarity.”

Despite rumors of more back channel talks trying t bring the two sides together, the picture for negotiations remains dark. The AMPTP continues to put on a PR campaign to convince the public that it is being fair. In ads in the Hollywood trades and some newspapers this week, the AMPTP said writers are already paid for downloads on the Internet, which is true. What the ad did not say is that writers are not paid for streaming video over the web, and that they feel cheated by the small payment they receive for downloads that do pay something.

At this point, it appears the WGA strike will drag on for weeks, even months, into the new year when writers will be joined by actors in their negotiations for a new contract. Together the writers and actor are expected to have more clout. It remains clear where the directors will fall in this; as rumors they will start their own separate talks with management continue to percolate.

Ironically, earlier this week Verrone pointedly sent a letter to IATSE officials supporting the strike in New York by Broadway stage hands, who fall under Short’s unions jurisdiction. Verrone said that they all need to work together.


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