Writers to vote on contract, could return to work by Wednesday

Monday, February 11, 2008

LOS ANGELES -- The Writers Guild of America moved swiftly Sunday toward a resolution of its three-month-old strike, with guild leaders deciding to recommend a tentative contract to members and ask them to vote on a quick end to the walkout.

By calling for separate votes on ending the strike and accepting the new three-year deal, the union cleared the way for the entertainment industry to return to work almost immediately.

Membership meetings will be held Tuesday in New York and Los Angeles to allow writers to decide whether the strike should be brought to a speedy end, said Patric Verrone, president of the guild's West Coast branch.

"This is the best deal this guild has bargained for in 30 years," Verrone said.

The tentative contract secures writers a share of the burgeoning digital-media market, he said, including compensation for Internet-delivered TV shows and movies.

"If they [producers] get paid, we get paid. This contract makes that a reality," Verrone said. But, he added, "it is not all we hoped for and it is not all we deserved."

Still, the union's negotiating committee recommended Saturday that the contract be accepted, and the West guild's board of directors and the East Coast guild's council agreed. They called for a membership ratification vote, which will be conducted by mail over about two weeks.

Member approval of the contract and the strike's end appeared likely. At heavily attended membership meetings Saturday in New York and Los Angeles, there was resounding support for the proposed deal that could put TV and movie production back on track, salvage the rest of the TV season and remove a boycott threat from this month's Oscars.

Verrone thanked television viewers who "tolerated three months of reruns and reality TV."

The guild's major bargaining concession to studios was agreeing to take unionization of animation and reality TV shows off the table, Verrone said. The guild has said it still intends to pursue those goals.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios, said it had no comment Sunday on the guild's actions.

The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which represents more than 70,000 performers, broadcasters and others, lauded the writers guild for winning gains in digital media.

The federation is preparing to begin its own TV contract talks and intends to be "focused, deliberate, and prudent as we engage with the employers to negotiate the best possible agreements for performers," its president, Roberta Reardon, said in a statement.

Despite friction between the federation and the Screen Actors Guild, the two groups traditionally negotiate together on a contract covering feature films and prime time TV. That contract expires in June.

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