Moving Forward: The Need for Post-Strike Dialogue with Other Unions

From screenwriter Brian Nelson (HARD CANDY, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT) --

The other day I had a conversation with a friend of mine who works in Craft Services. It was an unsettling talk. While this friend has been quite supportive of me all through the strike, during this talk he kept raising points that felt more like what people on the other side would say. "Well, it'll take a long time to undo all the damage ... the moment there was a DGA deal, why didn't the WGA just jump on that? ... It seemed like they were a lot more willing to talk to the DGA than to you guys, and I wonder why." I took a while and patiently responded to all these points, but it struck me that every time I'd respond, he didn't really acknowledge it but came back with another bone to pick.

What it brought home to me was that while my friend was definitely on our side because he felt that the corporate bosses were out to screw us all, he still was very wary of the WGA. Now that the WGA didn't need him so overtly on our side, he felt freer to express a lot of the frustration that BTL people must still feel.

Even though the strike is over, many of our sisters and brothers below the line aren't working yet. The relief that much of the town feels at working again can't be allowed to obscure this fact. My friend was right: it's indisputably true that a lot of work will be needed to make up for the hardships that people across all unions have endured.

When you're out of work, naturally any party that feels like it might have contributed to the problem remains suspect. But the difference between the WGA and the AMPTP is that we can and will maintain a dialogue with our BTL colleagues.

That dialogue can take the form of the benefits still being staged to strengthen the Industry Support Fund. And that dialogue can take the form of lobbying for the underpricing bill currently in the California State Senate -- which helps all unions by making sure that our work isn't traded between corporate subsidiaries at less than its fair market value.

But just as importantly, that dialogue needs to take the form of simple honest exchanges about what's happened and what's still happening in this town. The success of everyone's next negotiation will depend in large part on how we all view the last few months, and how well we maintain the lines of communication newly created between motion picture artisans used to laboring in isolation and sometimes mistrust of each other.

If we are truly championing the idea of a United Hollywood, then we need to be alive to the simmering resentments that may bubble up from other trades now that solidarity may not feel like the watchword of our every hour.

Thanks for listening --

Brian Nelson


stuiec said...

There is a MASSIVE amount of work to do. Affiliating WGA West to the AFL-CIO (as the WGA East is) would help, because that would give WGAw access to the Los Angeles County Labor Federation and make it much easier to get an entertainment industry Central Labor Council up and running.

I note that the WGA Industry Strike Support Fund got a rather late start and has raised only a miniscule fraction of the wages lost by non-WGA industry workers. I also note that the Actors Fund has disbursed twice what the WGA ISS Fund has raised, and four times what the WGA fund has disbursed. That displays a lack of foresight on the part of the WGA.

I suggest that the WGA and the other unions in Hollywood ramp up the fundraising for strike support funds ENORMOUSLY. Imagine the leverage it would give union negotiators (from whichever union) if they could show management that the workers throughout the industry were in a position to weather the financial strains of a strike of three, four, five or six months.

And the other unions and guilds in Hollywood need to know that the WGA will unequivocally support them in whatever ways are open to them. Work-to-rule slowdowns, refusal to cross picket lines, sickouts (as in Steve Carrell's famous "enlarged testicles") -- whatever can be legally done to help a fellow union shut down production and create leverage for its negotiators, the WGA should commit to doing.

It's also long past due time to resolve the feud between the WGA and IATSE over reality and animation jurisdiction. The WGA has to focus on organizing the unorganized writers in these areas, not on poaching members from IATSE or competing with IATSE over a particular shop. That sort of division and infighting only plays into the hands of management.

Luzid said...

stuiec said...

...a lot that needed to be said.

I'm concerned at the quiet that's descended on UH since the strike ended. There's not much talk of the kind of solidarity necessary to ensure the studios don't continue to hold an economic pistol to the heads of those collaborating to create entertainment.

I hope to see more activity here regarding solidarity issues and tactics as SAG's contract end draws near. It's important work!

Ashley Gable said...

StuieC: Remind me again how much the AMPTP Industry Support Fund has raised for BTL workers hurt during the strike? Oh, right. There isn't an AMPTP Industry Support Fund.

Despite the fact that the AMPTP refused to negotiate with writers from July 2007 through half of January 2008.

United Hollywood said...

Luzid -

Thanks for your comment. We're moving to a new site with a forum for union voices. We're reaching out to SAG leadership and membership this week for posts on the SAG issues. Come back soon.


stuiec said...

ashley gable: "StuieC: Remind me again how much the AMPTP Industry Support Fund has raised for BTL workers hurt during the strike? Oh, right. There isn't an AMPTP Industry Support Fund."

You win the prize for the biggest non sequitur in the short history of the blogosphere.

You recall from your recent experience how a strike works, yes? Union employees agree to forego wages in order to force management to do without their labor. A key objective of a strike is making it impossible for management to continue money-making operations.

The longer the employees can hold out without pay, the more leverage they have at the bargaining table. A large strike fund doesn't only affect the later phases of a strike: it provides leverage BEFORE the strike starts, if management sees that the workers have the resources to prove that a strike vote isn't a bluff, and to call any bluff that management might try to run.

It isn't incumbent on management to ease the burden of a strike on workers -- the strikers or the non-strikers. It plays into their hands to let them point to the strike as the source of economic woes for non-strikers. A much smarter play is to prepare ahead so that their divide-and-conquer tactics can't find a toehold among the workers -- the strikers or the non-strikers.

As for management refusing to negotiate, that unfortunately merely proves that the WGA was not in as powerful a position as its leaders thought. The WGA could not deny the AMPTP the luxury of staying away from the bargaining table. (I could also point out that the refusal to negotiate was not all one sided.)

Did you participate in a work-to-rule slowdown last summer, where you delivered only the bare minimum under your contractual obligations and only at the last possible minute before your deadlines? Did you help slow the delivery of scripts in order to deny the AMPTP companies a stockpile of inventory to keep in production for weeks after the strike was called? I seem to recall anecdotes about WGA writers rushing scripts in to beat the Oct. 31 deadline, looking to make that last-minute buck for themselves at the expense of their union's bargaining position.

Please don't complain about how the AMPTP didn't play fair. In a labor dispute, the other side will only play fair to the extent that it's forced to -- either by the law, or by the strength of your bargaining position. From time to time they may surprise you by behaving like human beings with integrity, but planning on them doing so is naive.

Luzid said...

@ Tom:

Will this new site be accessible to WGA members only, or will the public who supports them (even when, in their view, it makes bad deals) still be welcome?

United Hollywood said...

Luzid -

All will be welcome at the new site. Supporters. Skeptics. Outright enemies. Goal is informed debate, not agreement.

Check out the Union Forum link (forum.unitedhollywood.com). You can become a member, start groups and discussions, upload videos and otherwise make your opinions known.


deuddersun said...

You know, I did a lot of posts at my place supporting the strike and amazingly, one day, I received an e-mail from a guy who does my job, but in Europe. The long and the short of it is, there are no real entertainment unions in Europe! He asked my help in speaking to the IA about organizing there and I promised him I would do what I could. I have a post coming out on this shortly, followed by a letter to the President of our so-called "International".

Anyway, the point is this. The strike produced a lot of good in a lot of places. Wouldn't it be nice to know that no matter where a production originated, or where it went, there would be Union representation there to level the field?

This is how precious our Unions and Guilds really are, that people in other parts of the world envy us. Let us lead then. Let us join together and show a unified front! It takes all of us to make a picture! It takes all of us to make a stand.

There are five primary unions invovled here. WGA, DGA, USA, Teamsters, and IATSE.


Five fingers...what?

Five fingers...what??

Five fingers...WHAT?


Band of the Hand.

See you at the new spot.