Energy at Writers Guild Deal Meeting Akin to a “Rock Concert”

The Writers Guild of America, on the union’s first day after its historic 148-day strike, staged a “rock concert” — as one showrunner described it — on Wednesday night at the Hollywood Palladium as the guild celebrated its leadership and solidarity while outlining the deal points in its tentative Minimum Basic Agreement to its membership.

The meeting opened with a minutes-long standing ovation for the negotiating committee and was followed by a video featuring scenes and interviews from the picket lines and from various rallies held throughout the past 148 days of the work stoppage.

WGA West president Meredith Stiehm opened the meeting with the “official” announcement that the guild had reached a tentative new three-year Minimum Basic Agreement after what was the union’s second-longest strike in its history. Her remarks were met with one standing ovation after another as she recognized each and every member of the WGA’s leadership, board and negotiating committee as well as recently elected officers. The biggest applause of the night, however, was reserved for Ellen Stutzman, the chief negotiator for the guild who stepped in for David Young after he went on medical leave in February — with the roughly thousand guild members who packed the Palladium all the way up to its rafters chanting her name.  

Stutzman flexed by noting that when studio top brass Bob Iger, David Zaslav, Donna Langley and Ted Sarandos joined what turned out to be the home stretch of negotiations last week, the meeting was held in the WGA Boardroom rather than at the AMPTP’s Sherman Oaks headquarters.

“Ellen is very impressive. Even more so than she was back in April. You really get the sense that this has turned her into a true and very impressive leader,” said one source in attendance.

“The writers guild is kind of a miracle,” Chris Keyser, the co-chair of the WGA’s negotiating committee, told members Wednesday as he singled out the solidarity among the rank and file and reiterated that it was the AMPTP who “chose” this strike, not the guild.

“Once the four CEOs finally took control, the deal was done in essentially three days,” he said, pointing to the $5 billion in losses to the California economy as an example of how the group that represents Hollywood’s studios and streamers was ineffective. “We still have work to do. We have to enforce it … remind members to come to the guild if they’re pressured to give up their rights, we have to educate writers and showrunners on the rules … and we want agents to play their part. No more, ‘That’s the deal, just take it.’ … We have to look out for each other, even after the picket signs have been thrown away.”

Keyser, who has become known for his motivational speeches to the union, also gave a shout-out to Drew Carey and everyone else who helped support the WGA during the strike. Carey has become a guild favorite after footing the bill for members at Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank and Swingers on L.A.’s west side for the duration of the WGA strike. His tab at Bob’s hit $250,000 for the first two months of the strike alone. Carey, who was not in attendance, also received a standing ovation from the assembled members as did “Fake Carol” Lombardini, the social media account that serves as a parody of the AMPTP’s president. (The identity behind the viral account remains a mystery.)

Stutzman then ran through the MBA’s deal points, including what the WGA started with back in May and what the union wound up with nearly five months later. Another showrunner in attendance at the event — which was closed off to the press — said the pact was very well received.

The WGA West board, WGA East Council and the negotiating committee on Tuesday voted unanimously to recommend the agreement. The tentative deal now goes to the WGA’s membership for ratification. Voting will take place Oct. 2-9.

“The contract will definitely be ratified,” said another source at the gathering. “And by a substantial margin.”

Before closing with questions, negotiating committee co-chair David Goodman thanked the guild’s lot coordinators and strike captains as well as members who regularly walked the picket lines. “All those stories about some big-time agent getting us to come back or one particular person getting us to come back to the table? No, it was everybody in this room who did it,” one observer recounted of Goodman’s comments.

A Q&A portion closed the night with members inquiring about ways in which they can support SAG-AFTRA as the performers union is now 60-odd days into its own strike against the AMPTP, with negotiations now scheduled to resume next week. Guild leaders encouraged members to turn out for SAG-AFTRA and said there would be other opportunities to support the various unions including the United Auto Workers.   

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