WGA East Considers Spinning Off Digital News Members Amid “Existential Threat” – Deadline

EXCLUSIVE: The WGA East is dealing with a digital divide that its future officers say poses “an existential threat to the guild” that might result in it “collapsing.”

Only just a few years in the past, the overwhelming majority of WGAE members have been movie and scripted tv writers. But over the previous 5 years, an aggressive marketing campaign to arrange dozens of digital information shops together with Salon, Slate and HuffPost has modified its demographics dramatically, with its information sectors — broadcast and digital — now approaching 50% of the guild’s whole membership.

That digital information organizing marketing campaign has now been placed on maintain whereas the guild weighs its choices, which incorporates the potential for spinning off its digital information members into a very separate union.

Jigsaw Productions Unionizes With WGA East

This change within the WGA East’s demographics has turn into a key concern within the guild’s ongoing election, which has seen two camps emerge: the Inclusion & Experience ticket, whose leaders pushed for a pause within the organizing of digital newsrooms, and the Solidarity slate, which argues that “it’s important that we continue to organize the entire industry.”

The guild will have three new officers come September 15 – president Michael Winship, vice chairman Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, and secretary-treasurer Chris Kyle – all of whom are operating unopposed on the Inclusion & Experience slate. That group has 9 candidates who’re squaring off towards seven Solidarity candidates for the Council, which is the guild’s governing physique.

Deadline sat down for a Zoom interview Thursday with the guild’s three future officers, who expressed issues about what might occur if a majority of the guild’s membership now not consists of movie and scripted TV writers. Kyle mentioned that information writers – each digital and broadcast – will attain 50% of the guild’s membership “in another year or two at the current pace of organizing.”

The WGA East and the WGA West are two separate unions, however they’ve a reciprocity settlement that enables members to maneuver from one guild to the opposite. “Our fear is that if the digital news representatives gain a majority on the Council, many of our members who work in TV and film might take the option to move to the West and take their dues with them,” Kyle mentioned. “And if that were to happen in significant numbers, it would be a serious financial hit to our guild, and could well lead to its collapsing. So that’s why we don’t feel that we’re exaggerating when we say that figuring out how to solve this problem is an existential threat to the guild.”

The downside, the guild’s future officers say, stems from the unexpected penalties of the guild’s much-ballyhooed drive to arrange digital media shops, which has introduced in lots of of recent members. Since 2016, the WGA East has grown from just below 4,000 members to just about 6,400 at this time, and lots of of these new members work at digital information websites.

WGA East

WGA East

“About six years ago,” Winship mentioned, “we were approached by Gawker about the idea of helping them unionize and coming together to be part of our union. We were able to make that happen and made a deal with them in 2016. And that triggered a flow of employees at other digital news organizations coming to us and asking us for help. We’re totally in favor of anyone who wants to join a union to be able to join a union. But what happened in our case is that so many employees of these digital news operations came forward that we reached a point where we realized it was just becoming a lot of people, and that we needed to stop for a while – just pause for a while – and access where we are.”

That pause in organizing, he mentioned, doesn’t embody the continuing drive to safe contracts for writer-producers at MSNBC, which completed an NLRB-supervised vote on Tuesday that may resolve whether or not or not the guild will turn into their bargaining consultant for the entire community’s reveals. The organizing drive at Hearst Magazines can be persevering with. “We’re still working with those groups, but we decided to take a pause and not engage any others at the moment until we determine what we want to do,” Winship mentioned.

He famous {that a} subcommittee of the Council has been fashioned “with the idea of examining what all the alternatives were in terms with dealing with this, and the possibility, for example, of spinning the digital writers off as a separate union, which we would financially help for the first three years or so to help them get on their feet. But it’s just been a case where we were concerned that the people who have been the bedrock of this union since its creation decades ago have been the film and television writers and broadcast news writers of TV and radio – and that it was important that their interests still be a part of very much who we are.”

The subcommittee, Winship mentioned, “is meeting and will make recommendations to the Council, and then depending upon what the Council decides to do, we will present those recommendations to the entire membership so that everybody gets to discuss and debate what we should be doing in the future.”

All three of the guild’s future officers mentioned that if it in the end involves spinning off the guild’s digital members right into a union of their very own, the WGA East will assist them to take action financially. “We’re not kicking them to the curb,” Kyle mentioned.

If that occurs, it will be carried out “with our financial support,” mentioned Cullen, the guild’s subsequent vice chairman, who famous that the digital information members “are not anywhere close to being financially self-sufficient, and according to our staff’s estimate, won’t be so for another three years. So that has been one idea that’s been presented.”

Breaking down the guild’s demographic numbers, Cullen mentioned that “since our inception in 1954, the WGA East has been 80% film and TV writers and 20% broadcast news members. And just to be clear, we have always had news members in our guild. And since we began organizing in digital news five years ago, we have had success after success in that sector, to the point that we now have more than two dozen digital news shops under us. And as of May, digital media now makes up 26% of our membership. In a year, it will be 36%, and a year after that they will gain majority. And all of that happened in just five years.”

“There have been a lot of very strong opinions on either side, whether that was a good thing or whether that was a bad thing, but we all have to agree that that’s a fundamental shift,” she mentioned. “And there are some real implications for that.”

Said Kyle: “Basically, it comes down to a governance issue. Film and TV writers are reasonably concerned about a guild that has a majority of digital news writers, because the Council decides very basic things that only affect film and TV writers, such as picking the members on our negotiating committees or the trustees on the boards of our health and pension plans. They also get to decide whether MBA [Minimum Basic Agreement] writers have a referendum on a strike or other collective action. So we’re concerned that we would have a guild where film and TV writers wouldn’t be able to control their own destiny, in a way. So we’re looking for a solution – a restructuring of some kind, or spinning them off as a new union so that we can continue to control the parts of our guild that only affect our workers.”

Asked in the event that they favor the choice of spinning the digital members off into their very own union, Cullen mentioned that “the option that we favor right now seems to be the most obvious one, and that is talking to our members first. The guild has not been transparent with our members, old and new, about what’s going on. The TV and film and broadcast news members have not been told that they will soon become the minority in the guild, while still paying the bulk of our revenues. Currently, our television, film and broadcast news writers make up 87% of our revenues. The guild has also not been transparent, we believe, with our digital news members, who have come to expect that we would keep up this extremely rapid pace of organizing, because they have not been told otherwise. They can’t be blamed for being upset that our executive director, Lowell Peterson, has instituted a pause. And we need to be clear on that: it is the discretion of the executive director, not the Council, to decide the when and where and who of organizing. And he has currently paused organizing while the leadership, and soon the membership, decide what the best path is to go forward that will protect all of our members, including our digital news members.”

Broadcast information members, they identified, wouldn’t be a part of any choice to spin off the digital information members into a brand new union.

“Broadcast news members,” Cullen mentioned, “have been part of our guild since its very inception. We share similar workplace concerns and similar financial concerns, and most importantly, we share employers, and therefore we share our pension and health benefits, as well. Our interests have been closely aligned from the beginning. Our digital media members have quite different needs and issues and concerns, and we want to be able to take a minute and figure out how exactly we, as a guild, are serving them, or aren’t serving them. And as we go forward with these very different demographics, how all of our members will be cared for.”

“We have a real fear,” she mentioned, “particularly our film and television members, when they realize that they have become a minority in a guild that no longer serves their interests, that they could take their dues and simply join our sister guild in the West” – the WGA West. “We believe strongly in our right to have an independent and healthy guild here in the East for film and TV and broadcast news, and digital news writers, too. So we will fight very hard for the survival of the WGA East.”

Winship, who was president of the WGA East throughout the writers’ strike of 2007-08, famous: “We have a very, very healthy, congenial and collegial relationship with the West Coast guild. And it took a long time to achieve that. Back in the early 2000s, it was very rancorous. Partly it was the strike that brought us together, but we have such a good, positive relationship with the West, and a respect for each other’s individuality as unions. Beyond the geographical differences, there are cultural differences, as well. But we really work well together; we negotiate together and I’m really happy about that relationship.”

Council candidates on Inclusion & Experience slate embody Tracey Scott Wilson, Greg Iwinski, Lauren Ashley Smith, Kathy McGee, James Harris and incumbents David Simon, Bonnie Datt, Tian Jun Gu and Phil Pilato.

The Solidarity slate’s Council candidates are Benjamin Rosenblum, Kim Kelly, Sara David, Hamilton Nolan, Lyz Hynes, Sasha Stewart and Josh Gondelman.

“Everyone deserves a union,” their platform says. “We strongly support organizing new members in media, nonfiction television and film, podcasts, animation, and other relevant areas of opportunity. Growth is a vital part of our power. Our union includes members from different industries. That should be a strength, not a weakness. We are all storytellers. We value the collective mutual support of all parts of our union for one another.”

On the problems, they pose and reply three questions:

Why don’t digital journalists be part of another union?

The WGAE in 2015 made the choice to get into organizing this area as a result of they noticed it was non-union and that every one our industries are in the end linked. WGAE approached Gawker to unionize and that’s the way it all bought began. Now that now we have a number of media folks in our union already, it’s essential that we proceed to arrange the ENTIRE {industry}. The extra of the {industry} we get in our union, the stronger our union is for all of our members in that {industry}. All of our members profit from us organizing the media {industry} as a lot as potential. We would like to in the future have a pension and a well being plan too—however we are able to’t get that till we first obtain union density within the {industry}.

How does the WGAE profit from having digital media writers?

All of those writing jobs are the truth is linked. Journalists turn into TV writers, folks transfer from job to job, podcasts are in every single place—it’s sensible and strategic to acknowledge that these strict {industry} strains aren’t truly how everybody experiences a writing profession. The union advantages by being in every single place, similar to the employees are. Secondly, we now have a number of digital media writers in our union already. In a way this query is already settled. Media folks *are* the WGAE, similar to screenwriters. This is just not a query up for debate: 2000 members of our union already rely on us persevering with to construct power in media.
The monetary reply is: All new organizing requires a giant funding up entrance, to arrange the folks into unions, after which as soon as these folks win contracts, dues begin coming in. In the long term the spending on organizing evens out and makes the union extra revenue. We have all seen the projections and know that is true. We simply must keep it up. Also, it’s essential to notice that the WGAE is just not in any monetary hassle. We are very properly managed and well-capitalized.

How can we lastly unionize the nonfiction tv and movie {industry}?

The WGAE marketing campaign to unionize the nonfiction tv and movie {industry} has dragged on for over a decade with minimal progress. The storytellers of nonfiction have been exploited for much too lengthy, and an industry-wide union is required now greater than ever. Accomplishing it will require solidarity all through the WGAE, in addition to an organizing effort to spice up involvement and membership from the nonfiction writers and producers in order that the employees themselves can lead the cost, which has been severely missing and holding again progress. We should work collectively as a union to struggle for all industries that want important assist within the Guild, which very a lot contains the nonfiction tv and movie {industry}.

See all of the candidates’ statements here.

Source Link – deadline.com

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