Monday, December 10, 2007

WGA Strike: AMPTP Screwing All Unions

I ate breakfast at my favorite joint this morning, wearing my WGAw Strike shirt.

The waitress was on our side after I'd talked maybe two minutes. Two and a half cents. It's only fair.

But that isn't what I want to write about today.

Two issues, no, three.

First, let's talk more about why Chris Lehane is a scab.

United Hollywood

As of last week, the AMPTP retained the powerhouse "crisis management" firm of Fabiani and Lehane (known in political circles as "the Masters of Disaster." )They also have "a reputation for hardball tactics in damage control and inflicting damage on opponents."

This firm has built a reputation and a substantial income largely from Democratic, progressive political causes. A short list of their past employers includes Al Gore, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Michael Moore/Miramax (for Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko), and my personal favorite, the Screen Actors Guild. Founding partner Chris Lehane is currently a consultant for the Californians for Fair Election Reform, a major Democratic group, among other things.

My DC lobbyist friends tell me that for emergency “crisis management,” firms like Fabiani & Lehane charge as much as $100,000 dollars a month. But the AMPTP is also paying Steve Schmidt, a veteran Republican-leaning PR guru. He could easily cost another $100,000 a month.

My concern is this: no one hires crisis management firms at such huge expense if they’re planning on making a fair deal. A fair deal doesn't require hundreds of thousands of dollars of spin to sell. A fair deal is its own good PR.

The WGA hasn’t hired a huge PR firm. We don’t want to “spin” anyone. United Hollywood is an all-volunteer blog, and our PR strategy is simple: we tell the truth.

The truth is, we’re fighting for the future for all working people in Hollywood.

The truth is, new media coverage and internet residuals are vital to the income of writers, directors and actors.

The truth is, the below-the-line unions rely on residuals to fund over half of their pension and health plans, and their rate is tied directly to ours. If we lose, their P&H will likely be decimated.

The truth is, if we don’t get coverage for new media productions, the below the line unions won’t get it either. If we lose, they lose.

This strike is a disaster for the working men and women of California, and many other regions that rely on the entertainment industry for jobs. We didn’t want this strike. And the AMPTP could stop it tomorrow because our proposals are affordable and reasonable.

But instead of making a fair deal with us, they hire Fabiani & Lehane. The proposal gets a snazzy new name, the CEO's take out new ads and tell everyone how great their proposal is. Except that then, they don't give it to us. Remember the second half of the proposal they said we'd have on Tuesday? We still haven’t gotten it. Hard to negotiate without the offer. And it's becoming clear they don't intend to give it to us -- one theory being that they're stalling, looking for an opportunity to walk out of the talks and blame the WGA leadership for it.

It's time for the CEO's to stop playing PR games and get a deal done.

When Fabiani & Lehane worked for SAG in 2002, Lehane said at the time:
“... we believe strongly in the need to preserve the strength of the union and this agreement does that. We both come from liberal, progressive backgrounds, and this union represents working people."
For the record, so does the WGA, which is why SAG is our ally. And yet, right now Chris Lehane is helping the conglomerates try to divide this union internally and orchestrate ways to get us to question our leadership.

In other words, Chris Lehane is union busting.

And since Lehane and his firm have made their fortune – and continue to make it – off of Democratic Party connections and progressive causes, I think the hypocrisy here is pretty appalling.

Below is the contact info for the three frontrunners for the Democratic presidential nomination. Hillary Clinton, who says she supports the writers in this strike, has worked extensively with Fabiani & Lehane. Barack Obama and John Edwards also support the strike, and they work with many of the organizations that Fabiani & Lehane rely on for their business.

Call these 3 candidates, and politely ask them to promise to hold Fabiani & Lehane accountable for what they are doing.

Tell Clinton, Edwards and Obama this:

"As long as Fabiani & Lehane are in the business of union-busting, we want your personal assurance that they will not be in the business of working with Democratic organizations, businesses, politicians or candidates.

A strike is not a business opportunity to make a profit by harming the interests of working men and women."

Hillary Clinton (213) 908-0190

John Edwards (919) 636-3131

Barack Obama (866) 675-2008

The AMPTP likes to say that this is all about business. Well, the business of hypocrisy shouldn’t pay.
I think that pretty much handles the issue of Chris "the fucking Scab" Lehane.

There are consequences for being a scab.

One of them is that NO ONE, ever, ever, ever, EVER, fucking EVER works with you again. You're fucking DEAD to us now.

That's how you enforce Union discipline. Cross a picket line as a member of the Union, fight against a union, you're fucking through with that union. This guy claims to be a progressive, but he's working with the goddamn studios to try and bust the WGA?

He needs to be made an example of. No Democratic organization, no one on our side of the aisle gets to EVER use him or his company again, even to clean up after a botched race for dog-catcher. I swear by the sacred ovaries of PenĂ©lopĂȘ, we need to bring this mother-fracker down.

Item the second. It's been clear all week, the Studios have been planning to fuck with us, to build us up, then to pull the rug out. They're toying with the writers' emotions, trying to play divide the writers and turn them against each other, so they can get people to accept a bad deal in the end.

This is NOT going to work. I swear these folks will stay out for a YEAR if that is what it takes to shove this crap up the studio's ass. This is for all the marbles and the longer this lasts, the angrier everyone is getting. No writer is backing down.

As usual, Nikki has all the answers:
Deadline Hollywood

EXCLUSIVE: I wish I had better news about the AMPTP-WGA contract negotiations, but I don't. To sum up, they suck. I took extra time reporting tonight, and some very surprising developments came to light.

For instance, Peter Chernin is privately telling Hollywood that the producers plan to quit the talks any day now. That they have no intention of coming back with another streaming proposal "until we are close". And that they'll only give a better electronic sell-through formula "at the last minute" when a contract with the writers is virtually signed.

These quiet remarks by the Fox/News Corp No. 2 are the complete opposite of what the AMPTP is telling the WGA around the bargaining table.

I'm told Thursday's talks began at 10 AM, and both the WGA and AMPTP had a brief discussion about streaming, made-for-web content pay and jurisdiction, and electronic sell-through. Then one of the negotiators from the network and studio CEOs' side declared, "The DVD formula is good for you, and you should embrace it with open arms."

The bigwigs have even concocted this fiction that they wanted to solve the strike in three intense days of negotiations before Christmas but now they see that's impossible because of the level of mistrust and misunderstanding around the table. My sources tell me the CEOs seem to be looking for any excuse to blame WGA chief negotiator Dave Young specifically for "blowing it".

But the truth is this: the Hollywood moguls have not delivered on their promises. And Chernin's statements make clear they never had any intention of doing so right now. Days are passing, and the AMPTP still hasn't come back with a counter/counter-offer to the WGA's counter-offer to the AMPTP's offer on streaming. Days are passing, and the AMPTP still hasn't come back with the 2nd half of its New Media proposal presumably containing ESTs. Days are passing, and the AMPTP and WGA are still paralyzed on Internet issues, which is why they moved way down their list to the subject of Reality TV jurisdiction. Sure that angered the CEOs who own a network -- and I think it was a giant mistake by the writers' negotiating team to get off New Media and onto that. But it came up because of the AMPTP's stalling tactics, and the two sides had to jawbone about something.

In conclusion, I wouldn't be at all surprised if, as soon as Friday, the AMPTP walks out of the talks with a news release in hand that it's all the WGA's fault.
And sure enough, Nikki was right on the money...
United Hollywood

Moguls Break Off Talks Without Real Offer

As of right now, the Moguls have broken off the talks with a very long, very prepared and very nasty statement. It's also full of half-truths and outright lies.

It clearly took someone some time to write, and a lot of thought has gone into crafting it for maximum potential dissent within the ranks. It's a PR doc, and it's very well-written. You don't create something like this in ten minutes, or even an hour. This kind of thing takes days, especially if a large group of CEO's have to sign off on it.

So they've been planning this for a while. Which doesn't speak to good faith in the negotiation on their side.

One of the sticking points, apparently, was our leadership's refusal to promise they would cross a SAG picket line. It certainly appears that someone is planning for another strike sometime soon. And they want to crush that union, too. Assuming, of course, that they can crush us.

We're going to have more on this soon, but right now, all I can say is: remember that a very, very expensive consultant has orchestrated all of this for precisely one reason -- to win. This isn't about the moguls being "reasonable" or protecting the internet streaming business (that is really so laughable it was almost impossible to type) or any of the things that document talks about.

It's about winning. And they can only win if we let it happen.

Stay strong, we'll have more soon.
Also this...
United Hollywood
This is the letter that was just sent to the membership:

WGA's Response to AMPTP Breaking Off Talks

Today, after three days of discussions, the AMPTP came back to us with a proposal that included a total rejection of our proposal on Internet streaming of December 3.

They are holding to their offer of a $250 fixed residual for unlimited one year streaming after a six-week window of free use. They still insist on the DVD rate for Internet downloads.

They refuse to cover original material made for new media.

This offer was accompanied by an ultimatum: the AMPTP demands we give up several of our proposals, including Fair Market Value (our protection against vertical integration and self-dealing), animation, reality, and, most crucially, any proposal that uses distributor’s gross as a basis for residuals. This would require us to concede most of our Internet proposal as a precondition for continued bargaining. The AMPTP insists we let them do to the Internet what they did to home video.

We received a similar ultimatum through back channels prior to the discussions of November 4. At that time, we were assured that if we took DVD’s off the table, we would get a fair offer on new media issues. That offer never materialized.

We reject the idea of an ultimatum. Although a number of items we have on the table are negotiable, we cannot be forced to bargain with ourselves. The AMPTP has many proposals on the table that are unacceptable to writers, but we have never delivered ultimatums.

As we prepared our counter-offer, at 6:05 p.m., Nick Counter came and said to us, in the mediator’s presence: “We are leaving. When you write us a letter saying you will take all these items off the table, we will reschedule negotiations with you.” Within minutes, the AMPTP had posted a lengthy statement announcing the breakdown of negotiations.

We remain ready and willing to negotiate, no matter how intransigent our bargaining partners are, because the stakes are simply too high. We were prepared to counter their proposal tonight, and when any of them are ready to return to the table, we’re here, ready to make a fair deal.

John F. Bowman
Chairman, WGA Negotiating Committee
Contract 2007
Here's the take away.

The corporations are trying to mind-fuck the writers into accepting a bad deal. Anything less that steely resolve at every step along the picket line, will be met with contempt and a good rogering by these sociopathic fucks.

No blinking, no giving in, no avoiding responsibility. Our intent here is to make these six corporate entities, their principle stockholders and advertisers, and the people running the studios, hurt. Badly. And not blink at all while doing so.

They would strip us, our families, and all future writers, actors, directors, and every other creative guild of our pensions, health benefits, and pay from all future media streams, forever. Without even hesitating. And get their rocks off too.

Our job is to beat them down so hard no corporation EVER fucks with the creatives, ever again. That two hundred years from now, this lesson is still remembered and taught in B schools as:

"Some wars are not worth fighting, some people should never be attacked. The people who invent whole worlds and juggle them as their personal play-toys, while determining our cultural sense of ourselves, are NOT people to fuck with. Ever. They just might decide to write us out of the story. Which in the end, is what happened to the value of the Studios... the Writers jointly started telling new stories about who Producers and Studios were, and lo and behold, the Studios discovered they suddenly Just.Weren't.Needed.Anymore. Took less than a year. The strike ended with the studios begging the writers to come back to work on any terms, an unconditional surrender. The writers said no, and the studios went out of business. Welcome to the internet and direct distribution. Which is how the writers, directors and actors, took back control of their own destinies, and set the stage for a new artistic renaissance."

This vision of the future, will only happen through fighting the bullshit every day, and by not stupidly surrendering anything now. (*waves to Alec Baldwin*)

This matters. It is for the future of modern culture and the right to not have six corporations who don't give a shit about anything that matters, control entertainment for the next hundred years.