1/04/2008

What Fi-Core Really Means

This was submitted by WGA member Michael Seitzman, who is currently blogging on Huffington Post as well.

I read news today of Writers Guild member John Ridley's decision to go Financial-Core to protest the Writers Guild strike. I was angry and dismayed and my original post on the issue was full of that vitriol. I thought an edit was in order so as not to let the message to get lost in a war of words.

First, let me explain what fi-core means. Just because it has the word "financial" in it doesn't mean it has anything to do with financial hardship. It has to do with reducing your Writers Guild membership down to its "financial core," meaning you have absolutely no responsibilities or restrictions except to pay the portion of dues that goes toward basic guild functions (collective bargaining), but not toward anything else like political or charitable contributions.

Fi-Core means that you are a "dues paying non-member." You get all the benefits of membership as long as you work under a WGA contract but you are not restricted in any way by the WGA. It means you don't have to be on strike if you don't want to be. That's right, you can go back to work, you can cross the picket line, you can cash your checks, and you get all the benefits that may come from the strike without having sacrificed a thing.

Let me say that again... without having sacrificed a thing.

Where's the rub? You can't take part in any of the guild's political processes. You can't vote, you can't sit on the board, you have no say in the future of the guild at all. And it's permanent, a lifetime decision. You can't go back. It's like moving to Switzerland because you don't agree with a U.S. policy... even though policies change and you'll never be allowed to move back.

But for someone who goes fi-core, those things don't matter anymore. What matters is your paycheck (and unfortunately in some cases, a level of smugness). Now, I understand financial hardship. If people are starving or have a family to feed, if they have no other recourse, I can't fault them for doing what they have to do.

But if you "own your shit," as Ridley brags in one of his HuffPo posts, then the only thing you're doing by going back to work is hurting those you call your friends and colleagues, weakening the very definition of collective bargaining by demonstrating disunity -- not dissent, disunity. Right now, Nick Counter is having his first erection in thirty years over John Ridley's decision.

When union members go Fi-Core they sacrifice nothing while gaining everything that others have suffered for. Are they entitled to do that? Yes. What they are not entitled to do is claim that they is a part of a community of men and women who chose to stand up for something they believe in, at great risk to themselves.

35 comments:

Jake Hollywood said...

Maybe the WGA Leadership should change the title of "Fi-Core" to "I get mine and fuck the rest of you."

I understand the problems have during a strike like this: the difficulty of debt pilling up with no income, the deep desire to work in a creative environment, the desire to think that the sacrifice is really worth it...If I didn't have a deep love of poverty, I'd probably consider fi-core as an option. But, knowing me and my over-developed sense of right and wrong, I'd just quit the business all together...

But I love writing and respect those WGA writers before me who sacrificed so much that I can't dishonor them by turning my back on the union that so many of real strength help to build.

I never will.

I don't understand those who can turn their back, even if they disagree with the leadership tactics or how they've conducted these negotiations...

Frankly, I wish there was something more substantial that could be done to those of Ridley's ilk. Maybe public stoning.

And until we, even those fi-core and scab WGA writers (you know who you are), get a fair contract I'll be on the picket line with my brethren fighting the good fight.

David said...

Fi-Core for WGA is largely the same (and carries the same motivations ) as Fi-Core for SAG (disclosure -- I'm SAG and AFTRA, tho not WGA). Basically, a lot of folks out there, especially folks who are working regularly at above union minimums and making plenty of cash [or who do what we do as a hobby and not a career], see the union rules as a hinderance and not a help. They misunderstand (or have forgotten) why we have unions in the first place because they've either never struggled, or have forgotten what it was like to struggle for work (and the pay which should accompany it). I actually had an agent once who recommended I go Fi-Core 'cause "the union is just keeping [me] down." She's not my agent anymore, needless to say.

Interestingly, my day job is in the web software industry (I don't work nearly enough as an actor to ditch the day job, sadly), and we've had a hard time unionizing, even though a lot of tech work has rapidly moved from highly-specialized, high-paying work to low-to-mid-skill, near-minimum wage work, for these same reasons: folks who don't struggle often are unable to bring themselves to make sacrifices for those who do struggle. But it is exactly those high-profile, well paid folks who we need on our side to make things like strikes (or unionization in general) effective.

Solidarity is an important concept, and one which has been rapidly disappearing from the American labor landscape. Unfortunately, some prominent, well-paid folks like Ridley don't feel that solidarity, so they go Fi-Core and make it out to be a triumph.

Fortunately, though, enough of us feel that solidarity to stand-up for our fellow writers/actors/directors/union members that we can take an action like the current strike (which hopefully will bring producers to the table again soon, either together or individually, as with WorldWidePants).

Fingers crossed for equitable resolution,

-David

JimBob said...

Does anyone know the history of the law that makes Fi-Core possible? I do remember a ruling that members cannot be required to pay that portion of their union dues that the union then uses for political purposes (IOW, a member cannot be forced to subsidize a political agenda he/she doesn't agree with), but how did we get to a place where a person can flout the entire purpose for which the union was created in the first place (unified collective bargaining) and still benefit from pension and health benefits, not to mention union wages? Can someone fill me in on the background and thinking behind this situation? TiA

hollarback said...

Gotta love Ridley..."You are all doomed! Resistance is futile...now pay me in unmarked bills."

Oh please. As if anything has ever changed without a fight.

Maybe he should look back at the pictures from when the writers first formed the guild, back when there were riots and beatings and firehoses turned on those that would dare picket and demand fair treatment. Those people fought for him, for the benefits he greedily announces as his due. But he won't stand up in turn for his fellow guild members, no, he just wants to get paid. What a coward. He's lucky he isn't a Teamster.

The guild is better off without him.

B said...

While understanding your viewpoint about FiCore, I fail to see why many of our best spokespeople feel the need to include lines like yours about NC's erectionbor the coke and whores line on Letterman. Yeah, I know, they're funny, we laugh and are pleased with outselves but at the same time we sound like adolescents. Plus, it's hard to take the emotional high ground, intelligent writers arguments seriously when we paint many good people with one brush.

We deserve a bigger portion of the pie. However, at the end of the day we also need to remember that there are those on the other side who also worked long hours at low pay to get to where they are. While they may not be talented writers, many of them have nutured our projects, fought for us and helped us produce excellent movies. To demean the other side - even those that may deserve it - for cheap laughs or to act as though all on the other side are only one rung above child pornographers ultimately demeans us as well.

Trust me, you are walking on the picket lines with some people with shom you wouldn't want to share your latest script idea.

kelly said...

Thank you Michael for your insightful comments and for clarifying what fi-core is.

The WGA membership is indeed a community. That's one things I've come to feel out on the lines. Ridley is no longer a part of our community.

He wants controversy and attention. He will benefit from the sacrifices we all make. Pathetic. Good riddens.

Justin said...

Oh, good grief people. There is no "WE" out there in the real world. It's my name on my lease, on my student loans, on my bank account, etc.

At the end of the day, if I decided to go fi-core, that's my decision alone. There is no wrong or right in it.

Actually, if the fools running the WGA don't close a deal soon, there will be more John Ridleys. Just as talks seem to be getting somewhere on internet residuals, the fools also push for unionization of reality tv and animation. Well, it blew up in their faces, and now the WGA leadership will have to deal with the fall out.

A short strike works in favor of the WGA. A long term strike works in favor of the studios, as if this lasts long enough more scabs will surface and like in '88, in the end they will get the full benefits from the WGA.

And by the way, anyone who says that Ridley should be stoned clearly has no respect for the LAW. Legally, if I want to work for any reason, I can. That is between my employer and myself.

The fact some people are talking about using MAFIA tactics against individuals who disagree with them like Ridley shows a barbaric, savage mentality.

Crestmere said...

I didn't even know that there was such a thing as "fi-core."

I think doing something like that in the middle of a strike of indefinite length is a really bad idea. Ridley's action was really nothing more then giving the WGA the finger. Or, at the very least, that was the end result.

If we were not in the middle of a very bitter strike, I could possibly think of a few cases where this might not be a bad career move. While I don't think I would ever do something like this (even though I write in other media, I expect WGA work to cover benefits and a fair portion of money) but in the normal course of things (i.e. non-strike mode), I wouldn't immediately condemn someone for making that decision.

malifer said...

Did you read that link?

He thinks the guild should finance a film for the guild...I wonder who he thinks should write said film...I wonder who he thinks should get residuals for said film...I wonder what he thinks he should be paid for internet use of his writings...

But it doesn't really matter what he thinks now because the idiot went fi-core which means he opinion on the matter means less than mine.

I'm not a WGA member, but one day I could be and I would be able to vote on guild issues.

I wonder if he should bother continuing to blog on Huffington now that his opinion doesn't matter because he just gave up his right for it to matter ever again.

He should get a pseudonym because I will never buy any product with John Ridley's name on it.

reasonable said...

Justin, when I'm hiring MY staff for MY series, I'll keep your irrational self interest (there IS a distinction) in the forefront of MY mind.

In your morality, if there isn't a right or wrong in making the decision to go Fi-Core, why not go right ahead & do it now?

cory said...

Come on, guys. Mr. Ridley's actions are quite understandable given the WGA's current bargaining position. The WGA negotiators are basically reduced to begging the AMPTP to come back to the bargaining table. And the AMPTP is not at all interested. I understang why the WGA leaders have to continue the stike. They will look foolish if they don't. But let me just say what any sane person already knows: There is absolutely nothing the WGA can do to get the AMPTP back to the bargaining table because the AMPTP wants nothing to do with the WGA. They want to deal with the DGA. Plus, the AMPTP gets the added bonus of re-structuring its television business models and blaming it on the writers strike. The WGA is basically striking with no end in sight. Bad business. But I don't think the WGA strike is about business, anymore. It is about pride and emotion.

morethanreasonable said...

If someone wants to Fi-Core than that is their decision. They aren't breaking solidarity. What they are saying is that it's time to get back to work and everyone should. This strike has lasted long enough. For those people who say...like Laeta...that they've betrayed their colleagues, friends...etc. a word of caution here...there should be no double standards if you're talking about convictions. What convictions do you have about betrayal to those friends, colleagues that you knew had a development deal and you screwed them in the process by voting for this strike??!! Where are your convictions now!!! Sincerely, trying to be as reasonable and fair here as we can, shall we??!

David Nett said...

I guess I'd just say this (and, again, I'm SAG not WGA): if you don't believe in collective bargaining or the power of a union to try to keep corporations from exploiting workers ... you probably shouldn't join the union.

Before you say, "if I don't join the union, I have to do non-union work, for which the pay is typically crappy or non-existent," just stop and think for a second about why that is.

The power of collective bargaining only exists because the collective agrees to go it together. Joss Whedon likely isn't worried about his own residuals -- his name carries weight enough to make better deals than the WGA minimums give him (I hope, at least). But he stands in solidarity because he knows that the collective can't bargain unless it sticks together. Folks who go fi-core want access to union pay, but without the hassle of the hardship that sometimes comes with collective bargaining. Legal and allowed? Sure. But I can't help but feel it is a bit disingenuous. If you don't believe in collective bargaining, I just don't see why you should expect to reap the benefits of it.

JimBob said...

Cory, please clarify when you say, "...the AMPTP gets the added bonus of re-structuring its television business models and blaming it on the writers strike."
Restructuring how? Away from scripted shows and toward more reality shows? They can do that any time they want. Showing reruns exclusively to avoid the expense of making new shows? Ditto. What exactly are they doing, as you see it, to make hay out of this strike?

JimBob said...

Anyone who is recommending that others go Fi-Core (or perhaps they're just ginning up their own conscience-soothing rationale for doing so themselves) is out of touch with what unions are for and hypocritical for sucking at the luxury teat that past union actions have provided them.

Frustrated Bystander said...

I think this "Fi-Core" thing is interesting. Maybe the WGA leadership and the structure of the Guild cannot penalize a "Fi-Core" writer, but I do believe the community of writers that make up the Guild can set forth an informal more'. When it comes time to hire a "team player" on staff, seeing if someone is "Fi-Core" or a regular WGA guild member gives a head writer some information and something to ask about in an interview, and will tell a head writer whether said "Fi-Core" writer is a good bet to hire or not to be part of a team.

JimBob said...

Dear Frustrated: Me, too.
I wouldn't be surprised if this bit of anti-union legislation also forbids anyone to label or otherwise identify a Fi-Core member as such without that member's (unlikely) permission.

Arizona Kid said...

Ridley who?

Frustrated Bystander said...

Hey Jimbob:

I guess maybe WGA may not be allowed to carry a membership list that hiring bosses can look into, but heck I guess a head writer could always ask to see someone's WGA membership card.

PaperCut said...

Who would recommend a member of the WGA go Financial Core? Just take a quick trip over to the AMPTP's "Strike FAQ" page.

Highlights:

"If you are not currently a member of the WGA, then you do not have to do anything to apply for financial core membership during a strike. You may simply choose to work, and the WGA will have no right to fine or discipline you."

"Does resigning to “financial core” status eliminate my health coverage and other benefits? No. Not only would you retain your health benefits, but you would also retain your pension benefits."

"...you have the right to continue to work without the threat of fines if you resign your full membership with the WGA and become a “financial core” member."

"After you resign from the WGA, you will be considered a “financial core” member of the WGA, which means that your only obligation to the union is to pay uniform union dues and initiation fees during the term of the WGA Agreement. In that case, the WGA cannot fine or coerce you for working during a strike. Moreover, you will not lose any rights under the Minimum Basic Agreement, including residuals and pension and health benefits."

"...if you resign from the WGA and go to “financial core” status you have the right to continue to work and your only obligation will be to pay those union dues and initiation fees which are uniformly imposed on all workers during the term of the Minimum Basic Agreement."

"As a member who went “financial core,” you are entitled to all the benefits of the collective bargaining agreement, including the exact same WGA representation in any grievance and the exact same pension and health plan rights. Also, as a “financial core” member, the WGA cannot fine or coerce you for working during a strike."

So, who would recommend that a WGA member go "Financial Core?"

The AMPTP.

Monty Ashley said...

"If someone wants to Fi-Core than that is their decision. They aren't breaking solidarity."

What do you think the word "solidarity" means? If distancing yourself from your union doesn't constitute breaking solidarity, none of the words in this sentence have any meaning.

JimBob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JimBob said...

Hey, Fru -- obviously, you gotta be a member before you can work, it goes beyond just flashing a card. Duh. Hiring a writer involves several interactions with the Guild. But if the Guild is not permitted by law to reveal the STATUS of one's membership, either by card or other means...then no one will ever know.

Patrick Meighan said...

"Now, I understand financial hardship. If people are starving or have a family to feed, if they have no other recourse, I can't fault them for doing what they have to do."

This is a good time to remind all reading this that there exists, for this very purpose, a Strike Fund, which from which alll WGA members being directly harmed by the strike may draw loans (at 0% interest) for their living expenses (make sure you meet the basic qualificiations for a strike loan). Info/apps were mailed and is available on the WGA web site.

The Guild also has a Good & Welfare Fund that loans money to members based on need. Members can apply for this through the MPTF.

Full disclosure: I happen to be on the Strike Fund Committee. That means that I'm one of the 6 or 7 WGA members who meet each week to evaluate applications and approve loans. For whatever its worth, the process is completely private, and your name is redacted from your application (and any supplementary communications) before any of us Strike Fund Committee members ever receive our copies. No Guild member will ever know that you applied.

Hopefully any WGA writer reading this has been building up a savings, anticipating the possibility of a work stoppage. But if/when those savings run out and you find yourself in financial jeopardy (now, or a few months from now) as a direct result of the strike, it is your privilege and right to take a loan from the strike fund.

Best,

Patrick Meighan
Culver City, CA

cory said...

Jimbo,
When I say re-structure, I mean reducing writing staffs and eliminating pilot season. That is what the AMPTP wants, wouldn't you agree?

makomk said...

JimBob: I think financial core - or at least the bit you're thinking of - is originally due to a legal restriction that companies cannot refuse jobs for non-membership in a union if the employee was refused membership or kicked out for any reason other than failure to pay the standard union fees.

This provision appears to date back to 1935, when unions first got legal protection in the US, though since I'm not a lawyer I can't be sure.

The reason for it is probably to limit union power. Without some restriction like this, unions could basically set whatever rules they like and lock anyone who objected out of working in the industry in question, and the potential for abuse would be immense.

cory said...

Is this true? This was in the Hollywood Reporter.

Some WGA Writers Striking Out for the 'Fi-Core'
By John Scott Lewinski January 05, 2008 | 4:11:25 AMCategories: Current Affairs, Film, Movies, Television, WGA Strike
We're approaching the second week in January, and the striking writers and their rival studios/networks are just about ready to sit down and get back to work not talking and not negotiating. Sure, they haven't been talking or negotiating since more than a week before Christmas, but that was a well-needed vacation from their previous weeks of complete alienation from each other. Now, the deafening silence will be official again.

As the strike drags through its ninth week, there is talk that more writers will opt to break from their Writers Guild of America membership and opt for "Financial Core" status. "Fi-Core" (as it's called -- since saying the full two-word title would simply take hours) essentially resigns a writer from membership in the guild, making him or her a fee-paying, but not does-paying professional. Such status allows a writer to work under guild terms or outside those limits if he or she chooses. The fi-core pro does not have to attend to any guild responsibilities such as voting, but they also lose any guild benefits.

In the end, it's essentially a way for a writer to show displeasure with guild leadership over the handling of the strike. How many writers hqve the angry inclination (or the guts) to go fi-core is yet to be seen.

nick said...

Fi-core is that man's option to protest the leaderships strike strategy. Obviously he feels very strongly that the strike is not being conducted well. He chose to beg out of a union that HE feels is not in the best interest of it's members. It sounds as though it was reactionary and foolish. Smart would have been to work within the neg-comm to somehow anyhow get back to the table. But it's his protest not mine.

cory said...

I pulled this guy of the huffington post. I think he makes some sense. I watched Celebrity Apprentice on Thursday night. It was REALLY GOOD. It even got raves on the MSNBC webpage.

thetvdecider (See profile | I'm a fan of thetvdecider)
here's a crazy idea...why doesn't everybody go back to work?

does any writer out there think they have more leverage now than when the strike started? look what's already on or coming up on the network skeds...biggest loser, american gladiators, supernanny, idol, wife swap, moment of truth, apprentice, big brother, survivor, top model, 1 vs. 100, etc. sure they're "crappy reality shows," but the ones that premiered this week did pretty damn well...good demos...winning their time periods...and probably 1/3 the cost of scripted series.
i'm not a writer (i'm a network weasel), but if i were, "the biggest loser" would scare the shit out of me. even if the strike ends soon, some previously scripted hours are going to be replaced by cheaper reality shows. the longer it goes, the fewer opportunities there will be for writers when it's over.
the wga is trying to play "whose dick is bigger?" with the wrong guys, and losing.
go back to work. at this point, you're not going to get any better deal on strike than you'd get if you were back on the job. at least you'd be getting paid. (and the below-the-line people won't hate you anymore.) tell your leadership to get back to the table. if you're back on the job, i'm sure you'd find the amptp on the other side of the table, ready to negotiate and ready to end this thing.

nick said...

Cory,
I am a below the line crew worker.
Please do not speak for us we are able to do that for ourselves. Sure, those of us that were put out of work by this strike are none to happy about it. But we DO NOT hate the WGA or the writers for standing up and fighting for what they believe is right. I hope the writers get everything they are asking for. I hope all of OUR sacrifices are going to be worth it somehow. I say our, because even though we had choice we have now sacrificed greatly. In every confrontation between factions someone will win, someone will lose, and usually some will run, and some innocents will be hurt.I do not profess to be smart enough to know how to end the strike and apparently I am not alone. I too believe that it is a pissing contest and ill-conceived and lord knows poorly timed. The AMPTP has stonewalled and walked away so the writers can't negotiate with the wall at an empty table.The crew is typically where the cuts to pay for the writers pay raise will come from but it is pointless to hate them, you would do the same. We all try to make our lives better that is what they are doing. Breaking the union would be a disaster for every union worker in this business. If they go down we all go down and we know it. That is what angers the crew members. If the WGA waits for SAG/AFTRA to strike with them and negotiates together . Then the town shuts down there would be no Features no Television just reality and the Fall season would not happen the town would shut down. Right now all feature actors are working. Sumner Redstone has proven he will not be bullied. In the face of zero production his mind might change. The writers go back to work without a deal at least on the table and they lose and so do we as crew.Aaron Sorkin said it best, "Serious times need serious people". These are serious times we need a serious solution not a white flag.

Frustrated Bystander said...

Hey Jimbob:

How is asking a writer about being a WGA member any different than asking an actor if they are SAG? I could get this info about Guild membership informally from an agent, manager, lawyer, or the gossip grapevine.

Usually people ask the silly SAG question because it indicates the professional sitting or standing in front of you has been hired on a signatory production which, in this town, indicates a certain level of "professionalism."

Having Guild membership also does the same for writers. You have read many posts on this board of writers who are waiting to hit the "qualification" points to be guilded. If someone is in the guild, it indicates they have sold a feature, or two one-hour dramas or some other combination of such credits. This is the baseline that most people wanting to "break in" will attempt to hit, and a WGA membership is like wearing a badge saying "I made it."

There is no law against asking about whether someone is SAG, AFTRA, IATSE, WGA, or whatever. Most people know this question is usually based around someone making sure that you have "professional" credits on board.

Doesn't seem like this question could be regarded as something discriminatory. If someone indicated they were not in the Guild but had some substantial professional credits, it would indicate to me they were "Fi-Core;" and if I were hiring said person, I would ask about their decision and what was going on for said professional so I could determine whether that person would be a good hire or not.

morethanreasonable said...

To Cory:

I am all for you, underneath and behind you Cory!! Go Cory!! Nick...I was a below-the-line worker and now I'm above the line and I still fight for the underdog because I know how it feels to be there. I'm sorry but please don't speak for other below-the-liners because you don't share their sentiments either. I speak for the below-the-line because they are my friends. My friends want to get back to work. Some of them worked on Two and 1/2 Men, some are on Pushing Daisies...hell and if they were blunt enough they would holler "Everyone back to WORK!" If the WGA were smart they would negotiate other things other than DVD and residuals. Hell...haven't they read a negotiating book? Doesn't anyone have an MBA in business?? What is their Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement???!! What is their BATNA? Don't they know they can negotiate perks and privileges. Why does it have to be ____?? They are a bunch of creatives with no creative negotiating strategy. Aren't these people educated??? If they knew anything about negotiating this strike would be over!! There are all kinds of things writers can negotiate other then DVD's and residuals!! Think people THINK!!!

JimBob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
morethanreasonable said...

Dear Jimbob:

If the WGA is as strong as it should be then people who opt to go even Fi-Core shouldn't weaken any bargaining position that the WGA has. However, in my opinion unions aren't what they used to be and are sure not cracked up to be what they purport nowadays. I can understand if you're standing for a union, like the unions long ago, when they claimed to do what it said it would do for it's people. I've heard countless times how the WGA didn't help a writer or artist with their money they were supposed to receive after they were hired to work and production was over and they were still trying to get their pay that was due them. I'm sorry, but if a writer or writer-producer defects from the union, there's something to be said about such union--especially if they are a notable highly influential one. It only states...in my opinion that they don't believe in their union. Sadly to say, that does bear alot of weight and the union needs to step up to the plate and LISTEN! The thing is we--the writer's have let the studios grow so large and so monstrous and now the writers are backpedaling. It's OUR fault! Let's eat it and move one people. Back to WORK! Be content with your salary. We make more than the average American worker. We have no RIGHT to complain!

JimBob said...

Makomk -- I do understand the motivation to prevent the union having undue power, deciding who works and who doesn't. The part I don't get is how you can go to work during a strike, AFTER HAVING BEEN a Guild member, thumb your nose at the union and your fellow members, weaken their bargaining position, and still continue to receive whatever pension and health benefits you would have been entitled to as a member, and GO ON GETTING those benefits as long as you qualify for them under the rules. This, to me, is madness. It's one thing to deny a union the power to hire and fire -- another to ask members who stuck by their union to go on contributing to a fund that will finance pension and health benefits for scabs. That is truly a thumb in the eye, don't you agree?