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WGA Strike: Talks Go On for Week 5

The script for the fifth week of the writers' strike has both sides returning to the table on Dec. 4, but the way the fourth week ended has many fearing the strike will see a Week 6 and beyond.

Representatives from the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers met for the first time last week since the strike began Nov. 5. And despite a press blackout, the early word from both sides was a sense of optimism, as sources from both sides said early in the week they felt a deal was possible by Friday.

Industry insiders were even looking into how long it would take to ratify the deal and re-start the television industry once an agreement shook out. But by the end of the week, that post-Thanksgiving optimism and the media cease-fire had both given way yet again to fears the strike would last past Christmas, when the WGA publicly dismissed the AMPTP's latest proposal.

After the AMPTP put forth what it called a “New Economic Partnership” on Nov. 29 that would increase the writers' payouts by more than $130 million, the WGA responded by calling the proposal a “massive rollback.”

Calling the AMPTP offer “dispiriting news,” the WGA said publicly the proposal only dealt with Internet streaming and made-for-Internet projects, and “made absolutely no move on the download formula.” The AMPTP is expected to offer additional proposals by Dec. 4, and at some point the WGA will counter.

After talks halted last Thursday at the request of the WGA, the AMPTP said that while it “strongly preferred to continue discussions, we respect and understand the WGA's desire to review the proposals.”

Talk also began to swirl late in the week that the AMPTP could still turn to the Directors Guild of America and try to cut a deal with that organization in an attempt to gain leverage over the WGA.

Meanwhile, the writers' guild and ABC last week reached a tentative agreement on a new contract after almost three years. The contract covers news writers, editors, desk assistants, production assistants, graphic artists and researchers, who had been working without a contract since January 2005.

According to the guild, they will get 3.5% annual raises and a $3,700 “contract bonus” for all full-time employees, and a pro-rated bonus for per-diem workers if the contract is ratified by the rank and file. It will take effect immediately after it is ratified and extend through Feb. 1, 2010. It will be put to a vote by union members Dec. 13 at meetings in New York and Washington, D.C.

In other ABC union news, the network is back at the bargaining table with NABET/CWA over a contract with technical workers that expired March 31. ABC was preparing a comment at presstime.

The WGA and CBS News employees have been in contentious negotiations with the network for almost as long as the guild was with ABC—since April 2005—but the prospects don't look particularly bright. The guild recently received strike authorization, although it has not said when and whether it will use it.