Written By February/March 2011 : Page 2

fAde in the MAGAzine of the Writers Guild of AMericA, West THE STRIKE LASTED 234 DAYS. It only ended when a federal judge issued an injunction against the owners. Without winning a single concession, their lost revenue exceeded $700 million. Was the strike inevitable? Why did owners padlock stadiums after announcing, “The remainder of the regular season, post season, and World Series have officially been cancelled.” Why did members of the Major League Baseball Players Association walk out, making theirs the first sport to lose a postseason to a labor action? You might dismiss 1994 as pre-download or old-media, but that infamous baseball season has much in common with the current awards season. Most important, it offers invaluable lessons in how not to manage the entertainment business. For example, the WGA Television Documentary nominee Baseball: The Tenth Inning (written by David McMahon, Lynn Novick, Ken Burns) vividly revisits the labor dispute that shouldn’t have been and didn’t need to be, yet went on to nearly destroy America’s national pastime. Through The Tenth Inning documentary, let’s look back: First, we watch team owners say, “All we have been trying to find out is how much they want.” Claiming they’ve not received numbers from the players, the owners make a proposal they know the union would never agree to: a salary cap. In effect, deliberately pushing for a work stoppage. So the players react accordingly: “We’re ready to play, but not under a salary cap.” On August 12, 1994, the players walk out. Tony Gwynn, a superstar batting .394 after 117 games, explains why he walked: “I’m a union guy. People sacrificed for me. I will sacrifice for the coming generation of ballplayers.” An enraged public abandons teams, turns to rival sports media. The fans’ anger stuns the owners. How could successful, intelligent executives forget they’re in the entertainment business and become self-destructive? What drove them to undermine their lucrative industry? Ever since the players formed their union in 1966, tensions with the owners had steadily escalated. The documentary reveals a subliminal, irrational, ideological cause, best stated by conservative columnist and baseball fan George F. Will: “The bitterness and suspicion festered because a number of owners frankly were unreconciled to the existence—not just the dissident behavior of the union—but the existence of the union.” The inability to recognize legitimate collective bargaining had blinded owners to reasonable compromise. They shared another characteristic: greed. Donald Fehr, executive director of the Players Association, says in the documentary, “Why did they want to break the union? Because then they could go back to setting the salary levels and over any significant period of time the difference in their revenue would be measured in the millions.” W ritten B y © © WGAW officers President John Wells Vice President Tom Schulman secretary-treasurer David N. Weiss MARK HANAUER WGAW BoArd of directors John F. Bowman, Linda Burstyn, Ian Deitchman, Carleton Eastlake, Katherine Fugate, David A. Goodman, Howard Michael Gould, Mark Gunn, Karen Harris, Chip Johannessen, Kathy Kiernan, Aaron Mendelsohn, Billy Ray, Howard A. Rodman, Steven Schwartz, Patric M. Verrone, Dan Wilcox executiVe director David Young GenerAl counsel Tony Segall WGAW Phone inforMAtion The Guild (All Departments) 323.951.4000 FAx 323.782.4800 WeBsite: WWW.WGA.orG WGAW dePArtMents Administration Agency Awards & elections claims contracts credits dues diversity executive offices film society finance human resources legal library Member services Membership organizing Public Affairs Publications registration residuals signatories theater operations Written By Pension & health 323.951.4000 782.4520 782.4502 782.4569 782.4663 782.4501 782.4528 782.4531 782.4589 951.4000 782.4508 782.4637 782.4615 782.4521 782.4544 782.4747 782.4532 782.4511 782.4574 782.4522 782.4500 782.4700 782.4514 782.4525 782.4699 818.846.1015 800.227.7863 800.890-0288 Writerscare info. Written By welcomes your comments. Send letters to: 7000 W. Third St., L.A., CA 90048 Or E-mail us at writtenby@wga.org continued on page 68 2 • WGA W Written By FEBRUARY/MARCH 2011

Fade In

THE STRIKE LASTED 234 DAYS. It only ended when a federal judge issued an injunction against the owners. Without winning a single concession, their lost revenue exceeded $700 million.

Was the strike inevitable? Why did owners padlock stadiums after announcing, “The remainder of the regular season, post season, and World Series have officially been cancelled.” Why did members of the Major League Baseball Players Association walk out, making theirs the first sport to lose a postseason to a labor action?

You might dismiss 1994 as pre-download or old-media, but that infamous baseball season has much in common with the current awards season. Most important, it offers invaluable lessons in how not to manage the entertainment business.

For example, the WGA Television Documentary nominee Baseball: The Tenth Inning (written by David McMahon, Lynn Novick, Ken Burns) vividly revisits the labor dispute that shouldn’t have been and didn’t need to be, yet went on to nearly destroy America’s national pastime.

Through The Tenth Inning documentary, let’s look back: First, we watch team owners say, “All we have been trying to find out is how much they want.” Claiming they’ve not received numbers from the players, the owners make a proposal they know the union would never agree to: a salary cap. In effect, deliberately pushing for a work stoppage.

So the players react accordingly: “We’re ready to play, but not under a salary cap.” On August 12, 1994, the players walk out.

Tony Gwynn, a superstar batting .394 after 117 games, explains why he walked: “I’m a union guy. People sacrificed for me. I will sacrifice for the coming generation of ballplayers.”

An enraged public abandons teams, turns to rival sports media. The fans’ anger stuns the owners.

How could successful, intelligent executives forget they’re in the entertainment business and become self-destructive? What drove them to undermine their lucrative industry?

Ever since the players formed their union in 1966, tensions with the owners had steadily escalated. The documentary reveals a subliminal, irrational, ideological cause, best stated by conservative columnist and baseball fan George F. Will: “The bitterness and suspicion festered because a number of owners frankly were unreconciled to the existence—not just the dissident behavior of the union—but the existence of the union.”

The inability to recognize legitimate collective bargaining had blinded owners to reasonable compromise. They shared another characteristic: greed. Donald Fehr, executive director of the Players Association, says in the documentary, “Why did they want to break the union? Because then they could go back to setting the salary levels and over any significant period of time the difference in their revenue would be measured in the millions.”

Instead, they lost millions. Zealous anti-union ideology consumed the judgment of owners who never played the game. All they built was a Field of Greed. And no one came. Baseball never recovered its peak ratings.

So here we are in 2011, and there are signs the sad baseball saga might be condemned to repeat itself. This time the players are writers, directors, actors, cinematographers, and producers— everyone in a Hollywood Guild. And a new owner, like those baseball owners of 1994, needs to remember that it’s in the entertainment business.

Again we’ll look back:

One year ago last February, Brian L. Roberts, chairman and chief executive officer of Comcast Corporation, presented a joint written statement (with then-President Jeff Zucker of NBC Universal) to the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet. The paper’s purpose was to secure approval of the proposed “joint venture” with General Electric, gaining Comcast “a majority interest in and management of NBC Universal (NBCU).”

That 13-page document lists “Commitments” by Comcast, GE, and NBCU as evidence they’d “take seriously their responsibilities as corporate citizens.” The 17th, and final, Commitment appears on the last page under the category of “Labor- Management Relations.” In its entirety: “Comcast respects NBCU’s existing labor-management relationships and expects them to continue, following the closing of the transaction. Comcast plans to honor all of NBCU’s collective bargaining agreements.”

Thereafter, Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen also said that he understands Hollywood is a union town and that Comcast intends to work cooperatively with Hollywood unions and guilds. Nothing will change here, he assured all.

Nothing in Comcast’s prior behavior Supports such promises. Its track record reveals a corporation that works to undermine rights for its own employees and even for employees at companies it acquired that had collective bargaining units. Now that the Department of Justice and the FCC consented to the acquisition of NBCU, a company that traditionally respects its employees’ right to bargain collectively, can Comcast summon the integrity and fortitude necessary to break with its own past and honor those rights? Or is Comcast, like the baseball owners of 1994, “unreconciled to the existence of the union”?

Last month an overwhelming majority of writers employed by Comcast informed the corporation that they’d designated the WGAW as their representative for collective bargaining. Believing they should be on equal footing with their new colleagues at NBCU, they requested that Comcast recognize and begin bargaining with the Guild.

They’re still waiting.

—Richard Stayton, Editor

Read the full article at http://www.bluetoad.com/article/Fade+In/625456/59660/article.html.

Previous Page  Next Page


Publication List
Using a screen reader? Click Here