January 10 – January 17, 2008 Edition

Striking Writers Guild
Signs Independent
Agreement With UA

LOS ANGELES/1/7/08–The Writers Guild of America and legendary United Artists Films have reached an independent agreement that will allow Guild members to work with UA while they continue to strike against other companies. The guild did not release details of the document, but a formal statement released January 7, said the pact "addresses the issues important to writers, including New Media."

The agreement is unique to United Artists Films and does not involve Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (MGM), a shareholder of United Artists Entertainment.

“United Artists has lived up to its name. UA and the Writers Guild came together and negotiated seriously. The end result is that we have a deal that will put people back to work,” said Patric M. Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America, West.

“This agreement is important, unique, and makes good business sense for United Artists. In keeping with the philosophy of its original founders, artists who sought to create a studio in which artists and their creative visions could flourish, we are pleased to have reached an agreement with the WGA,” said UA co-owner and CEO Paula Wagner.

According to the New York Times (January 7, 2008), the agreement "may have opened the door to a full-blown brawl as other producers demanded to know why writers have granted some companies a special agreement but not others."

Alan M. Brunswick, an entertainment labor lawyer with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, said the guild risks violating federal labor law if it refuses to deal with companies on an equal basis.

“If they’re willing to sign the same deal and the guild won’t give them the time of day, I think that raises an issue,” Mr. Brunswick told The Times.

Anthony R. Segall, general counsel for the West Coast guild, said the union was prepared to meet its bargaining obligation under the law. But, he said, “We have every right to take into account our strategic concerns and objectives” in determining how to deal with each company.

The Guild's strategy is to focus on major players and competitors of the biggest companies to force big studios and television producers back to the bargaining table.

Writers have been on strike for two months, crippling many shows, especially those on the late night talk circuit. United Artists, though controlled by Tom Cruise, and Paula Wagner, as the company’s chief executive, is a small player among Hollywood production companies.

The Times reported that the writers could be undermining their position by seeking agreements with independent producers because it would allow the big studios to use the fleet of smaller independent producers as processing factories. "In the fluid world of Hollywood, where companies often collaborate, a studio could team up with independents, positioning itself to withstand a longer strike."

The writers strike has also placed an additional strain on the book publishing market, as reported on Authorlink in November.