The Writers Guild of America officially began negotiations on Monday with the studios, as the union seeks to increase compensation and set minimum standards for the size and duration of writers rooms.
Over the decades, bargaining has become a highly ritualized process, with each step carefully scripted. The guild has already told members that the initial round of talks will last for two weeks.
At that point, the WGA will advise the membership on “what next steps we believe are necessary,” said writer-director Kay Cannon in a video posted on Friday.
If it’s anything like the last contentious negotiation, in 2017, the guild will seek a strike authorization vote, which would give negotiators leverage for the final round of talks.
As of now, it’s expected that there will be a two-week break, and that negotiations will resume on April 17, leaving two more weeks for negotiations before the May 1 contract expiration.
The initial phases of bargaining are also highly scripted, according to members who have participated in previous years. The talks are held at the offices of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers at the Sherman Oaks Galleria.
The guild’s representatives sit across from the studio representatives at a long table. Each side takes turns reading a prepared text. The guild’s representatives will detail the problems facing the membership and the proposed solutions. The AMPTP, led by president Carol Lombardini, will give a similar account from the studios’ perspective.
At some point, the representatives might retire to breakout rooms to work on particular issues.
“It’s a Kabuki dance,” said Erich Hoeber, who served on the WGA’s 2017 negotiating committee. “We go, ‘We’ll take this off the table, and you take that off.’ Hopefully you get down to the meat of the negotiation.”
The guild is seeking a package of wage increases, increased residuals, and other reforms that will together cost about $600 million, according to Ellen Stutzman, the guild’s top negotiator. The AMPTP, meanwhile, is expected to try to hold the line, especially given economic headwinds and the heavy debt burdens facing some of the studios.
On Sunday, the AMPTP spokesman issued a statement saying the studios are focused on “the long-term health and stability of the industry.”
“We are all partners in charting the future of our business together and fully committed to reaching a mutually beneficial deal with each of our bargaining partners,” the spokesperson said. “The goal is to keep production active so that all of us can continue working and continue to deliver to consumers the best entertain product available in the world.”
In 2017, the guild bargained for two weeks and then announced that the AMPTP’s proposal was “unacceptable,” as it was seeking “rollbacks.” Members were invited to meetings at hotels to get updates on the process.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that history will repeat itself.