Studios, WGA to Start Negotiations on May 11, Health Fund Proposal Unresolved

Dave McNary

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UPDATE — Hollywood’s major studios and the Writers Guild of America have agreed to start negotiations, as planned, on May 11.

The WGA has also agreed to extend its contract expiration two months to June 30. Both sides are expected to exchange proposals on Friday — even though studios did not agree to the WGA’s request to ease eligibility for health insurance requirements.

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The WGA talks were in limbo last week when the sides sparred over the WGA’s request that the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers change eligibility requirements for the WGA health plan. The exchange prompted WGA West executive director and lead negotiator David Young to call his studio counterparts “despicable” in a letter to AMPTP president Carol Lombardini.

In a letter send Thursday from Lombardini to Young, she said she had completed discussions with the studios about Young’s proposal to extend eligibility for health coverage through the end of 2020 to participants who fail to meet the earnings threshold needed to qualify for continued health coverage after June 30 and again after Sept. 30. “We anticipate that the number of participants who will lose coverage as of June 30, 2020 due to loss of employment caused by the pandemic is small,” she said.

Young’s request for an eligibility extension for the rest of 2020 was far greater than what was provided separately to DGA and to SAG-AFTRA members in response to the pandemic.

“The other group of participants whose coverage will expire on September 30th of this year will be evaluated based on earnings during the period July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2020,” she said. “We believe it is premature to make any decisions about this group at this time, and that we should wait until we are able to ascertain which writers have lost health coverage because of lost work opportunities attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic before discussing any adjustments to those eligibility requirements. We may find that most writers are able to continue working between now and June 30, 2020, as they have during the past two months.”

“As I have previously mentioned, the ultimate authority to make these decisions lies with the Trustees of the Health Plan, but the bargaining parties can and should provide the Trustees with input,” Lombardini said. “If you would like to raise the issue for discussion at a meeting of the Trustees, we are amenable to that path. Alternatively, if you would prefer to have discussions during our upcoming negotiations in a few weeks, we are also prepared to take the matter up at that time.”

SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP began negotiations on Monday via video conference due to California’s stay-at-home order. SAG-AFTRA’s current three-year master contract expires on June 30.

Here’s the letter the WGA negotiating committee sent on Thursday —

Dear members,

Due to the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WGA and the AMPTP have agreed to extend the 2017 WGA Minimum Basic Agreement expiration date from May 1 to June 30, 2020.  Therefore, writers will continue to be covered by the current contractual terms through the end of June.

The WGA Negotiating Committee will be meeting via video conference with the AMPTP starting the week of May 11th to negotiate a successor MBA contract.  Our entire committee remains committed to gaining the best possible deal for writers.

Thank you for your encouragement and support as we have prepared for this negotiation.  Communication from the committee may be limited during the course of negotiations, but we will update you when there are any significant developments.

As always, you can communicate with us at MBA 2020 or through your captain.

In Solidarity,
MBA Negotiating Committee

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