Time to cut a deal?

Talking is always better than not talking, so the unexpected news last night that the studios and networks will go back to the bargaining table with striking writers is certainly a positive development. So is the fact that it'll happen during the holiday season, when an extra dose of goodwill can sometimes lead to dealmaking. Still, it seems kind of early to be expecting a settlement, given the toxic exchanges of the past few weeks. And from the outside, there's no way of knowing how interested either side really is in giving a little to get a little - the key to reaching any agreement. Sometimes it can work the other way - that is, an even greater resolve by both sides and with it, less willingness to compromise. In his email to WGA members, Guild President Patric Verrone makes it sound as if the studios and networks are capitulating, noting that the past two weeks of union solidarity "all undoubtedly contributed to the decision to return to the table." That could be more than spin - the companies recently dropped their insistence that the strike had to stop as a condition of restarting negotiations. And yet, it’s hard to believe that the networks and studios are desperate to reach a deal – not yet anyway. Here's more from Verrone:

For 12 days I have repeated that a powerful strike means a short strike. In that time we have proven that bad news won't slow us down. Now it is equally important that we now prove that good news won't slow us down, either. We must remember that returning to the bargaining table is only a start. Our work is not done until we achieve a good contract and that is by no means assured. Accordingly, what we achieve in negotiations will be a direct result of how successfully we can keep up our determination and resolve.

Here's more from Variety's Dave McNary:

Backchannel efforts have been ongoing throughout the strike to restart the talks, spurred partly by the fact that the negotiations were progressing on Nov. 4, the final day of bargaining. Since then, as job losses and show cancellations gained momentum, agents, high-profile screenwriters and showrunners have exerted pressure for a resumption of talks. WGA leaders were angry over what they saw as a lack of substantive response by the AMPTP after the guild took its DVD residuals increase off the table. By contrast, the companies contended that they had made significant moves in new-media compensation for streaming video, providing a six-week window for promotion and giving the WGA jurisdiction over made-for-Internet work that was based on existing properties.

Meanwhile the NYT had several labor experts discuss whether a recent flurry of strikes - stagehands, auto workers and writers - reflect a newfound union resurgence. The general answer is no.

“In all these situations, management basically said you do what we want you to do or you have to stage a strike, and the union viewed a strike as a good piece of strategic leverage,” said Richard W. Hurd, a professor of labor relations at Cornell University. He saw an important parallel between the disputes in Hollywood and Detroit. “The unions there are struggling to keep up with the changing structure of the industry,” Mr. Hurd said. Ruth Milkman, director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Los Angeles, argued that the writers’ strike was an offensive struggle, not a defensive one, because the union was pushing to increase the payments. “They’re trying to push the envelope, but they don’t have tremendous leverage,” she said. “They don’t have the type of leverage that auto workers and the truckers once had when they could shut everything down.”

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
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