Force majeure prods union to negotiate

The AMPTP and the WGA will knuckle down and try again. Feeling the pressure as the strike's collateral damage continues to mount through layoffs of staff, cast and crew all over Hollywood, the two sides will return to the bargaining table on Nov. 26.

The scribes and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers jointly announced the restart of contract talks late Friday, following a week of back-channel moves.

Writers Guild of America picketing continues, however, and the WGA has scheduled a solidarity march in Hollywood on Tuesday.

Amid mounting layoffs and the issuance of "force majeure" notices, talks between showrunners and their respective CEOs -- such as Disney's Robert Iger, News Corp.'s Peter Chernin, CBS' Leslie Moonves and Warner's Barry Meyer -- were also described as key in applying pressure.

A handful of the town's top agents worked to nudge the two sides back to negotiations. WGA West prexy Patric Verrone and exec director David Young met Friday with Iger and Chernin, among others, at the Beverly Hills home of CAA partner Bryan Lourd. The sesh capped two weeks of shuttle diplomacy by senior partners at CAA, Endeavor, ICM, UTA and WMA.

Verrone attributed the return to negotiations as being a "direct result" of member efforts and, in an email, reminded scribes to remain focused on the guild's long-term goals.

"For 12 days, I have repeated that a powerful strike means a short strike. ... Now it is equally important that we prove that good news won't slow us down, either," Verrone said. "We must remember that returning to the bargaining table is only a start. ... Accordingly, what we achieve in negotiations will be a direct result of how successfully we can keep up our determination and resolve."

But during the past week, WGA leaders were also quietly pressured by a number of high-profile screenwriters and showrunners to get back to the table. Those members continue to maintain strong public support for their union, reasoning that any evidence of disunity would be exploited by the AMPTP.

Though labor observers said they were impressed by the WGA's effectiveness in organizing the strike over the past two weeks, they said the guild ran the risk of derailing that momentum as job losses mount throughout Hollywood.

"My sense is WGA members are willing to fight for these issues, but they want to see the leverage from the strike exercised sooner rather than later," one labor expert said.

The announcement that negotiations would resume at the end of Thanksgiving vacation provided the first optimistic development for much of the town since the strike began.

Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees topper Thomas Short blasted WGA leaders last week over job losses, noting that more than 50 TV series have been shut down by the strike. "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," he said.

Another impetus for the WGA to return to the table was the possibility that the Directors Guild of America would launch its talks soon if the WGA did not resume its negotiations. Once the DGA and AMPTP make a deal, it's likely that the AMPTP will insist that the WGA deal contain similar terms.

Whether the WGA and the AMPTP can actually make a deal next week is still questionable given the hostility that has characterized relations since the strike began.

Both sides agreed to a news blackout about the talks, which may reduce the sniping.


SEIU organizers boat, swim to class-warfare protest

For over a year the Service Employees International Union has been trying to organize the 360 housekeepers, groundskeepers and security guards of Fisher Island (FL), a private community so exclusive you can only get to it by yacht, helicopter or private ferry.

The Fisher Island Community Association (FICA), responsible for maintaining the island's common areas, ferries and island security, argues its employees -- who earn an average of $13.81 an hour -- don't want or need a union, and has fought to keep the SEIU out.

The fight has involved arresting protesters off the MacArthur Causeway, until recently the closest they could get; an incident aired on YouTube.com about a stolen SEIU banner; and the Ferarri driver who allegedly called a ferry operator a peasant.

But on Saturday afternoon came the invasion.

Nine vessels took off from Jimbo's, the bar on Virginia Key, and steered as close to the island as the law permits. Thirty swimmers swam to shore, unfurled their protest banners and started a racket.

Chants of Justice Now! and ¡Si, se puede! echoed off the $5 million condominiums as they never had before. Airhorns exploded, megaphones blurted.

SEIU lawyers had found a way onto the island. Turns out the beach in the most exclusive community in South Florida, composed of sugar-white sand imported from the Bahamas, is public.

Not only that: the covenant developers made with the county years ago seems to guarantee public right of way on a pathway leading from the ferry landing to the beach.

"It feels good to be back," said Wisly Jonatas, a security guard who says he was fired earlier this month for violating island policy on the ferry -- walking through the residents' parked cars to get to the employee cabin, an action forbidden because of the danger to the cars' paint jobs.

"They're nice cars," said Jonatas, who now works at the Port of Miami. "Mercedes, Bentleys. But I was tired."

Yellow plastic tape lined the beach, behind which stood dozens of security guards, Miami-Dade police and residents, some with cameras, some in golf carts designed to look like Bentleys. There were few smiles and no words exchanged.

When the swimmers walked down the beach toward the public access path, security guards kept pace. More waited at the path, which turned out was not much of a path at all: more yellow tape had been laid down on walkways and on the side of Fisher Island Drive, too narrow for two people to walk comfortably.

It did, per the law, extend to the ferry landing. Almost. The tape ended outside the security office. This created a bottleneck of sandy-footed chanting protesters. More residents in fancy golf carts showed up, including one woman wearing a three-quarter length fur coat and a fur hat. She drove a cart painted in tongues of flame, that looked like a dragster.

Mark James, FICA president, emerged from the security office and after discussion allowed the protesters to continue to the ferry landing. The path should have, after all, extended to the ferry terminal area -- James grudgingly admitted as much in a recent letter to the union, which you can read online at MiamiHerald.com -- but there would be no ferry ride back to land. The protesters turned around, walked back out to the beach and swam out to the boats that had brought them. Nobody was arrested.

It seems the covenant provided for a public access path, but no actual access; the path is a path to nowhere.

"That's correct," said Jose Cancela, a public relations man recently hired by FICA, later that afternoon.

Cancela didn't feel much had been accomplished. A publicity-hungry union had chosen a fat target, the richest community in the United States, populated by people who are sensitive, if not to the cause of social justice, then at least to the cause of their own quality of life and their privacy; but they'd only mustered 30 protesters, some flown in and some high school students.

"It's obvious that the employees are very happy," he said. "They were fully guaranteed every right [to protest] and they chose not to."

This was almost true. Housekeeper Marette Casseus came to see the boats off but didn't swim, because she injured her knee in an accident at work in the summer. She'd been making $8.50 at the time. "Nobody ever called me, even one day, to ask me, 'Marette, how do you feel? How are you?' They proved to me they don't care."


AG flexes anti-democracy muscle for unions

A veteran political activist is facing 10 years in prison and a hefty fine for attempting to petition government for redress of grievances. The latest news from Pakistan? No, this is happening in Oklahoma.

Last month Paul Jacob, the former head of U.S. Term Limits and current head of Citizens in Charge, was led out of an Oklahoma City courtroom in handcuffs after pleading not guilty to charges that he conspired to defraud the state.

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who's overseeing this bizarre prosecution, has accused Mr. Jacob and two fellow petition organizers--Rick Carpenter of Oklahomans in Action and Susan Johnson of National Voter Outreach--of bringing out-of-state petition gatherers to Oklahoma to collect signatures.

In 2005 Mr. Carpenter, a Tulsan, launched a signature campaign to get a state-wide vote on a Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Tabor, as it is known, would cap the rate at which state government spending could increase. Mr. Jacob and Ms. Johnson were later brought on board to assist the effort. Not surprisingly, politicians and interest groups that favor big government have developed an intense dislike for Tabor spending limits, even though, like lawmaker term limits, they tend to be popular with voters.

This certainly proved to be the case in Oklahoma. Despite strong opposition from organized labor especially, Tabor petition advocates managed to gather some 300,000 signatures from registered voters, far more than the 219,000 needed to get the measure on the state ballot. Following a court challenge, however, the signatures were invalidated, not because the signers weren't legitimate but because the Oklahoma Supreme Court determined that nonresidents of the state had collected signatures.

Ironically, it is perfectly legal for opponents of a petition to solicit money and manpower from out-of-state. And sure enough, public sector unions opposed to the Tabor initiative recruited people from outfits like the Oregon-based Voter Education Project, an offshoot of the AFL-CIO that specializes in countering signature drives. They also set up Web sites that advertised the location of signature-gathers and urged their members to harass them.

After the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled, Attorney General Edmondson could have let the matter die. Instead, he decided that the best use of scarce prosecutorial resources was to indict the petition campaigners. There's reason to believe his decision has less to do with enforcing the law and more to do with warning activists to think twice before challenging political elites.

Mr. Jacob says petition organizers consulted with both the board of elections and the secretary of state's office and were told that the residency rule could be met by anyone who moved to the state and declared himself a resident. In any case, that residency requirement is currently being challenged in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Mr. Edmondson might have at least waited for that outcome before pursuing felony counts against three people acting in good faith.

"The response is draconian and intended to scare and intimidate," says Mr. Jacob, who also faces a fine of up to $25,000 if convicted. "To get 10 years in prison for following what you understand to be the rules of the petition drive would send a chilling message, not only throughout Oklahoma but throughout the country. That's not what we want people to be thinking about when they consider whether to join a campaign to reform their government."

The Democratic AG has denied that his actions are politically motivated, telling reporters that "we're charged with enforcing the laws that are on the books." But every prosecutor has to make judgment calls about how to deploy limited manpower. And in other areas, Mr. Edmondson has opted not to act while legal challenges are pending. Upon learning that the Supreme Court had agreed to review a challenge to the death penalty, for example, he recently requested that all executions be halted until the High Court speaks.

Like many other ambitious AGs, Mr. Edmondson has his eye on higher office, and indicting Tabor supporters will win him friends among the unions and liberal interest groups that can sway a fight for the Democratic nomination. With so many other real crimes to deter, his pursuit of citizen petitioners is not the kind of prosecutorial zeal we need.


UFCW lawyers prep RICO lawsuit defense

On Oct. 15, Smithfield management thumbed its nose at the Food and Commercial Workers union by calling an end to negotiations. The UFCW has been struggling for more than a decade to represent the 5,500 workers at Smithfield’s Tar Heel, N.C., plant, the largest pork processing facility in the world.

Two days later, Smithfield pulled another punch and sued the union under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which was originally passed to stop organized crime syndicates. The suit alleges that UFCW’s efforts to organize public support for the Tar Heel workers constitute attempted extortion.

As a union statement notes: “Clearly, the lawsuit is meant to be a distraction from the ongoing health and safety issues at the plant, and the latest roadblock to finding a long-term solution for workers who have been struggling for years to bring union representation into the plant. The UFCW intends to vigorously fight these baseless allegations.” (Oct. 22) For more about this struggle, go to www.smithfieldjustice.org.


Unions gamble members' $$ for property tax hike

With Realtors and business groups preparing to square off against labor unions over passage of Florida's property-tax reform proposal, the Jan. 29 vote looms as an early warm-up for powerful interests certain to play big roles in next year's presidential and state elections.

Florida Realtors have given $820,000 to the state Republican Party during the past three years, while labor unions have steered $929,873 to state Democrats during that span, making them among the biggest contributors to either side, state records show.

For both groups, the January vote is likely to be a testing ground for tactics and talking points that will be central to the 2008 elections, when many voters are expected to cast ballots based on who can best fix a faltering economy.

While there will be no statewide offices on the ballot, Democrats will be seeking to cut into GOP majorities in the Legislature and hang on to the two congressional seats the party took from the Republicans in 2006.

"Republicans are trying to placate voters with this property-tax amendment," said Jim Kitchens, an Orlando pollster who often works for Democrats. "But it really only gives the average homeowner $240 back. That's nothing, and people are going to figure that out fast."

The Democratic-allied unions are looking to defeat the tax-cut amendment because it will cost local governments and schools $12.4 billion in lost revenue during the next five years, potentially leading to public-employee job cuts.

But defeating the measure also could sharpen the focus of voters on Florida's sluggish economy and turn their wrath against Republicans, who control the White House and Florida Governor's Mansion as well as the Legislature, Kitchens said.

He told Florida Democrats at their convention at Walt Disney World last month that the party's candidates need to "hang this [economy] problem" around the necks of Republicans.

By contrast, if the plan is approved, it will allow the GOP to claim a measure of economic victory heading into the election year.

"Sure, the Democrats are going to try to make this fail and turn it into one more example of voter fatigue with Republicans," said state GOP chairman Jim Greer.

"But lower taxes are a Republican principle. I think Floridians think tax cuts are good. And the party will do everything it can to drive turnout," he added.

Senate Minority Leader Steve Geller, D-Cooper City, said Democrats aren't really looking to kill the tax cut, just to win partisan points, and suggests there could be broader issues at work.

"It seems the majority of the public is angry -- Democratic and Republican," he said.

Still, Geller said, if the property-tax measure is defeated, "it certainly keeps a general feeling of unhappiness with Republicans alive."


Striking nurses employ picket line violence

The strike continues for nurses in eastern Kentucky against Appalachian Regional Healthcare. Both sides have attempted to find common ground but the nurse's chief negotiator says no significant movement has been made yet.

The strike has been tough for those walking the picket line as well as those who cross it. One employee who has chosen to cross the picket line to take care of patients discovered her tires slashed and her name written on a "wall of shame" posted outside the hospital.

The nurse's have been on strike since October 1.


Most Pennsylvanians oppose compulsory unionism

Did you remember to buy a present for your boss last month on Boss's Day? The teachers of the Susquehanna Township School District in central Pennsylvania didn't experience the embarrassment of forgetting the chief because two of their colleagues, who happened to be union representatives, bought the principal a gift. When they repeatedly asked the other teachers to kick in $3 to recover the $200 they spent, some of the teachers balked.

At the annual meeting of Pennsylvanians for Right to Work last week, a young eighth-grade math teacher, Ryan Mellinger, noted the irony of the teachers' negative response to the union representatives' cajoling for contributions.

Prior to signing on full time with the Susquehanna Township School District, Mellinger was a substitute math teacher. When a full-time eighth-grade math position opened up, Mellinger applied for the job. He had done such a marvelous job as a substitute that union representatives wrote letters recommending him for the position. Mellinger, who got the job, was unaware at the time that they were union representatives.

Shortly after signing on with the district, Mellinger was cajoled to join the union. Frustrated, Mellinger asked a union representative if she would rather have an excellent nonunionized teacher or a below average unionized teacher. She replied, "You really don't want to know." When questioned about which option would be best for the students, the representative replied that 100 percent unionization is taken very seriously.

Mellinger chose not to join the union, but he is still required to pay the organization $394 annually because his school district has an "agency shop" clause in its union contract requiring nonunionized teachers to pay their "fair share." Due to state law, local school boards and union influence, nearly 70 percent of Pennsylvania school districts are agency shops. Moreover, according to state law, any of the nonagency schools could become agency shops as part of future union contract negotiations.

Pennsylvania is the state that gave birth to freedom and individual liberty, but it has turned its back on its heritage regarding compulsory union fees. Compulsory membership and fees affect not only teachers but thousands of workers throughout Pennsylvania in a variety of businesses that have union contracts. The results are an economic disaster. According to a Mackinac Center for Public Policy study, states with compulsory union membership or fees lost 2.18 million manufacturing jobs from 1970-2000. States that do not allow such union coercion have created 1.43 million manufacturing jobs.

Mellinger is experiencing the economics of coercion as well. He thinks he would be better off if he could save or spend his $394 as he sees fit. He is only one of two teachers in his district building who are not union members. Those two teachers alone would have nearly $800 each year to invest or spend in their local economy. How many silent Mellingers would do likewise if given the choice?

A recent poll by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research found that 56 percent of Pennsylvanians — nearly an even split between Democrats and Republicans, with Democrats leading the way — believe there shouldn’t be state laws requiring compulsory union membership and fees. Some Pennsylvania legislators believe the same, which is why Sen. Mary Jo White has drafted an agency shop repeal bill. If you support such a measure, then contact your state senator and ask him or her to co-sign White's bill.

There is much to be done to return freedom and economic prosperity to Pennsylvania. Given its history, Pennsylvania should be a model of freedom. Giving the gift of freedom to teachers and workers is a good place to start.


Anti-strike protesters: 'Beloved Liberty'

There have been more demonstrations on the streets of France, but this time they were in favour of government reforms and against strikers.

Thousands of protestors rallied in Paris under the banner of a pro-Sarkozy group called "Beloved Liberty".

It has been a week of hardship for the country's commuters after transport workers walked out over President Nicolas Sarkozy's plans to reduce early retirement.

The strike is now five days old. Talks are planned with six unions, which could ease the disruption, but not imminently. Many trains will not be running today. The pressure on Prime Minister Francois Fillon and his President will be increased still further tomorrow when civil servants, teachers, postal and telecom workers stage their own walkouts.

They also face the prospect of losing early retirement possibilities.


Striking Broadway stagehands refuse to settle

A new effort to end a damaging week-old strike of New York theater workers collapsed late Sunday after the strikers and theater owners failed to resolve their dispute in two days of talks, owners announced. Negotiators representing the two sides met here Saturday and Sunday.

"We are profoundly disappointed to have to tell you that talks broke off tonight, and that no further negotiations are scheduled," Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the League of American Theatres and Producers, Inc., said in a statement.

She said the union representing theater stagehands rejected compromise proposals offered by the league and "continues to require us to hire more people than we need."

"Out of respect for our public and our loyal theatergoers, many of whom are traveling from around the world, we regret that we must cancel performances through Sunday November 25," St. Martin said.

Bruce Cohen, a spokesman for Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, is quoted by The New York Times as saying that "producers informed Local 1 that what Local One offered was not good enough, and they left."

The strike, which started on November 10 without notice, brought the curtain down at 27 Broadway theaters, with disappointed ticket holders arriving at theaters to find the doors closed and picket lines set up outside.

However, for shows such as hit musical "Mary Poppins," which are not run by members of the league and therefore not hit be the strike, the stoppage was helping ensure sell-out shows.

Off-Broadway productions were also reportedly experiencing a mini-boom thanks to the strike, with many visitors from across the United States and around the world still anxious to see some New York theater during their visit.

Tickets to some of the top Broadway shows can command prices of more than 500 dollars, and last year 1.3 million tickets were sold to foreign tourists.

And despite ticket prices increasing sharply in recent years, the number of theatergoers has continued to mount, jumping 2.6 percent from 2006 to 2007, while box office receipts have increased 8.9 percent over the same period.

According to the producers' league, Broadway pumps five billion dollars into the New York economy a year and provides the equivalent of 45,000 jobs.

The industrial action is the third stoppage on Broadway in 30 years. The last, a strike by musicians in 2003, lasted four days at an estimated cost to theater producers of several million dollars.

The producers' league is reported to have set aside 20 million dollars in an emergency fund in anticipation of the strike, while the union was said to have a contingency fund of four million dollars of its own.

According to the league, the average stagehand makes 150,000 dollars a year in pay and benefits, which the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees says is exaggerated.


Hollywood unions' history: Strikeout!

As the Writers Guild of America strike enters its third week, it's worth remembering that there was a time when strikes by the WGA were like Jerry Lee Lewis marriages. Don't like the current one? Just wait. There'll be another one along any minute, and it'll be even more destructive for all concerned.

Which is not to say any of them could have been avoided. (WGA strikes, that is. Who knows from Jerry Lee's troubles?) It is a sad, frustrating part of Hollywood history that now and again, financial inequities creep up or the studio heads get even greedier than usual, and the WGA is presented with what it considers an unacceptable offer by the Alliance of Motion Picture Television Producers (AMPTP).

The AMPTP, to use the labor terminology, is a "multi-employer bargaining unit," a group that in this case negotiates with all the major unions on behalf of the major studios. Once the AMPTP has its deal in place with a union, independent producers sign what are called "Me-Too" contracts, meaning that they agree to the same terms. So, in essence, the AMPTP negotiates on behalf of everyone who hires union members. Too often, the way they negotiate is to hand the union or guild a "take it or leave it" offer full of rollbacks, cuts, and other onerous terms. To leave it is to go on strike. Sometimes, if the union is willing to bargain far enough ahead, they can whittle the rollbacks down a bit and claim that as a win.

As a WGA member since '77, I'm presently on my fifth such strike--and I'm a novice compared to some. Last week, I picketed with a guy who'd walked off a job writing for Phil Silvers. One hates to think how many signs he's carried.

Why so many strikes? Some of it may be our very nature. Something about writing for a living may just make you feistier and more contentious and more demanding of respect ... but if that's it, it's probably a small part. More likely, it's luck o' the draw--the timing of when our contracts come up for renegotiation--and maybe some strategizing on the part of the AMPTP. There's a thing called pattern bargaining, a semi-inviolate concept that says that if one union makes a gain or eats a rollback, the other unions will gain or eat accordingly.

Of the three "above the line" labor organizations in town--the Directors Guild, the Screen Actors Guild, and the Writers Guild--we're the ones who have the toughest time shutting things down. When actors walk, you tend to notice it right away. There's no one to film. If the Directors walked--which they don't, but if they did--they'd also bring things to a screeching halt. With us, there's a lag, as scripts that are already completed get filmed. If you're the guy charged with rolling back the unions and getting their services cheaper, where would you start? The Actors' and Directors' current contracts expire on June 30, 2008. The WGA's, of course, expired October 31, 2007.

It's always been like this, right down to the producers' rhetoric and the suggestions that they can live well without us. That's what they were saying back in 1933 when ten top crafters of movie scripts agreed to organize. Immediately and predictably, the studios resisted: They would never recognize such a coalition, and anyone who joined would find themselves unemployed and unemployable. It took nine years of threats, legal wranglings, and National Labor Relations Board rulings before the Screen Writers Guild was able to negotiate its first contract.

In 1951, the Guild began to represent the writers of that newfangled thing called television, and in 1955, a number of regional and smaller groups that represented writers' interests were absorbed and reorganized. We wound up with a Writers Guild of America, West and a Writers Guild of America, East.

From then on, the WGA's history is largely a series of strikes or threatened strikes, each of which resulted in the establishment of some new right or principle. They won the right to residuals when TV shows were rerun; they won the right to screen credits, setting up a system of rules and arbitrations that stopped the guy who ran the studio from slapping his nephew's name on your script. The strike of 1960--which lasted 151 days, making it the longest strike in Hollywood until the Writers Guild later bettered its own record--was the one that secured a pension plan as well as residual payments when a movie was run on television.

For a long time, TV residuals were capped after a certain number of runs. It wasn't until a threatened strike in '77 that we began receiving them in perpetuity. That year, we didn't have to walk--but we would have, and the other side knew it. Some would suggest the studio heads since then haven't been quite as wise.

In 1981, there was a three-month WGA strike to establish compensation in the then-new markets of "pay TV" and home video. We wound up with a deal so good that the '85 contract negotiation was all about the Producers wanting to take it back. They had a better sense by then of the cash to be made in those areas and didn't like how much of it we got. So the 1985 negotiations pretty much went as follows:

They proposed a new cable/cassette formula that was much lower--an 80% reduction by some estimates, greater by others. There was really no money in those markets, they said, and what meager revenues existed were necessary to offset losses in other venues. (These are "losses" as defined by people who insist their top-grossing projects are still in deficit and therefore, there's no money due to anyone with a share of profits. Are they still telling Alan Alda that the M*A*S*H TV show was a money loser?) There was some talk of studies. If--big if--it turned out that selling movies on videotape was more lucrative than the writers expected, adjustments would be made down the line. It turned out, of course, that home video was more profitable than anyone anticipated. But somehow, no adjustments ever occurred--and I doubt anyone really expected they would. "We'll conduct a study" is something you agree to so the side that got the short end in the deal can save a little face.

The reduction in cable/cassette residuals was a deal breaker for them that year: No contract until we agreed to it. It was a deal breaker for us, too--mostly. We voted "no," but it was a tepid "no." The Guild was split, our leadership didn't know how to cope with that split, and the strike collapsed after three ugly weeks. We took the rollback. No one's quite figured how much writers lost, let alone calculated the losses for all the other folks in town who had deals linked to ours, either explicitly or due to pattern bargaining. The number is in the many billions--and beyond that, we can't bear to think about it. But of course the studios can. They look at how much they made off any salary rollbacks the same way they look at how much they make off any box office blockbuster. Immediately, they start thinking, "Sequel!"

In 1988, when the rolled-back WGA contract came up for renewal, the Producers did what one does when someone stupid is on the hook: They tried the same strategy again. They came at us with a series of demands that were not quite as noxious, but still pretty bad. Again, it was "Take this or there's no contract." This time, though, we'd learned, and we had better leadership. The strike of that year lasted 22 weeks--one day longer than the strike of '60--and while we ended up agreeing to some of the cuts, we cost the Producers a lot more than they cost us.

The strike of '88 was followed by almost two decades of labor peace. I wish I could write here that it was all because we stood up to them in '88. In truth, it's probably half that and half because we swallowed a few rollbacks and didn't demand much that was new and/or costly. This year, though, the burgeoning import of Internet delivery and other new technologies meant that we had to take a stand. There are too many dollars at stake for us not to establish our place at the table. There's also too much history. Blood was spilled to establish residuals, credit determination, health and pension, and other benefits. The Producers' current negotiating stance tips their true agenda: To build the online phase of the industry without all the gains that the Hollywood unions have amassed over the years.

To date, the AMPTP has not offered a contract. Their position is that they'll discuss those matters after we drop all this silly talk about a better share of home video (the extremely profitable DVD market didn't even exist when our current residual rate was negotiated) and any real share when the product we write is delivered online. It's not so much that they've refused to meet our demands--they've refused to listen to them until we accede to their main demands.

Which is why we have this strike. If it seems destructive, remember that Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild negotiations are up next. They're as militant in key areas as we are, which is why the Producers are so determined to make the writers yield. We're just the first ones into the fray and if the AMPTP can hold us down, they'll have a stronger position when they face off on other battlefields. Remember those two words: pattern bargaining. Hollywood's going to be hearing them a lot, one way or the other.


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