In April, a dispute between The Writers Guild of America, or WGA, and the Association of Talent Agents, ATA, took a dramatic turn when attempts at negotiating a mutually beneficial agreement pertaining to controversial packaging deals fell apart. As described by NPR, in the aftermath of those failed negotiations, WGA instructed 7,000 writers to fire their agents.
Several weeks have passed since then, and still many questions regarding the direction of this feud remain unanswered.
While no showrunners seem to take issue with WGA’s core argument against ATA, some question whether or not guild leadership is effectively remedying said issues. For instance, when WGA’s leadership’s campaign convinced members to support a new rule that would abolish certain hiring packages, they promised that writers would never have to fire their agents over e-mail. Moreover, a majority “yes” vote could be used to hasten negotiations, WGA president David Goodman once assured. To the dismay of some, however, when WGA’s membership followed through with an overwhelming 95.3% vote in support of the new code of conduct, WGA leadership purportedly instructed supporters to e-fire their agents effective immediately.
John Glenn, the showrunner of SEAL Team voiced his frustrations in a letter addressed to Goodman in mid-April: “I feel lied to and I am angry about it. I went to a meeting hosted by the Guild at the W Hotel a few months ago. A group of perhaps 100 showrunners and creators were told explicitly this action would not require us to fire our agents directly. Now we’re being aggressively asked to do just that.”
Glenn also spoke to the threatening nature of WGA’s requests. “If I’m being honest, there’s a strange, somewhat McCarthy-like tone to it all that I find repulsive. The idea of ‘trials,’ words like ‘compliance,’ and threats that ‘discipline’ will be visited upon dissenting members are things I instinctively rage against” Glenn continued in his letter. “If the WGA leadership cannot be consistent with a simple and transparent promise made to its members from the word ‘go,’ why should I trust this process now? Why trust when I feel lied to and now threatened?”
In light of these criticisms, Goodman sat down with Deadline to discuss the union’s decisions. He responded to Glenn’s letter with the following statement: “During the run up to the vote, many members asked the Guild whether they would have to directly fire their individual agents, and many said they preferred to do so through the Guild. We said we would make that option available. Our legal counsel then determined that the best protection for writers against any future potential commission disputes was to have every individual terminate their agreement in writing. The WGAW Board and WGAE Council determined it made the most sense to mandate the terminations come through the Guild via the e-sign form. The Board and Council are the governing bodies of the WGA, and one of their obligations was to interpret the working rules. That is their right and their duty. That wasn’t fun — we understand that — but our members understood the rationale and complied in overwhelming numbers.”
When asked about Glenn’s accusations of coercion, Goodman refuted the use of strong-armed methods. “There never was and never will be any directive to speak to members this way, and any writer who feels they’ve been treated harshly by anyone in this campaign should contact the Guild, or me directly.” He said, dismissing concerns as rumors rather than fact. “It’s easy to make false claims; if anyone has an actual claim of some misbehavior, the Guild and I will take it seriously. There have been none; that’s not a surprise with a 95+% vote.”
Eventually, the question of what will happen to writers who have not fired their agents arose. Goodman had this to say: “The Guild is still early in the process of collecting e-sign letters and contacting hard-to-reach writers. There’s no plan to sanction any member who has not yet e-signed, and any decision to do so would be made by the WGAW Board, or WGAE Council in accordance with each Guild’s constitution. Member adherence to Working Rule 23, requiring that writers may only be represented by agencies that are signatory to the Code of Conduct, has been a total success.”
As the interview between Goodman and Deadline continued, the president was unwavering in his support of WGA’s decisions. He reminded readers that if people took true issue with the new code of conduct, they should have voted no. “I said repeatedly I wanted an honest vote,” he said. “And it wasn’t the Guild’s fault that there was little progress made post-expiration date. The agencies asked us for an extension, and we agreed. […] And even then the agencies refused to make concrete proposals that addressed the Guild’s concerns. Finally, one of the reasons we have so many members on the Negotiating Committee is we can’t all be there all the time because we have full time jobs as writers. This is a volunteer position, and it’s offensive to me that anyone would criticize the dedication of these writers to serving the Guild.”
Goodman finally spoke to the long-term nature of these negotiations. “This is a long-term strategy,” he pointed out. Toward the end of the interview, he reminded Deadline of the heart of the campaign.
“There will always be people who understand the value of representing writers as agents,” he said. “Our goal is a future with agencies willing to align their interests with the writers they represent.”
As of now, a standoff persists between WGA and ATA. Following the failed negotiations, the mass termination of agents, and a lawsuit made by WGA against the Big 4, the ball seems to reside in ATA’s court.