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WGA News - Net Neutrality, Comcast Vote, CBS News

Writers Guild of America news on Net Neutrality, the Comcast vote by entertainment networks E!, Style, and G4, and CBS News' new collective bargaining agreement.

The WGA East has long advocated for the FCC to preserve the principles of Net Neutrality. On December 1, 2010, as FCC Chairman Julian Genachowski and his fellow commissioners were working on the final draft of its proposals, the WGAE released this statement outlining its position:

“We support codification of the net neutrality principles. We oppose a plan that would permit ISPs or other providers to charge consumers for access to ‘fast lanes’ which would distribute content more quickly and with better quality. That would, by its nature, make it more difficult for independent content creators, including many of our members, to reach audiences. It would favor content from deep-pocketed producers (e.g., the same multinational conglomerates that now decide what gets made and distributed on television and in movie theaters). We also oppose any similar discriminatory mechanism that would be applied to mobile devices. If the Chairman’s proposal includes these elements, we respectfully dissent.”

On December 6, the Guild launched a multi-faceted campaign urging members to help save the open Internet and promote the importance of Net Neutrality that included an action page on the WGAE’s website, a promotional video, and an online mechanism that allowed members to take action by emailing FCC commissioners with the message “Save the Internet and protect Net Neutrality.” At the launch, WGAE President Michael Winship and Executive Director Lowell Peterson released a statement emphasizing the need for urgent action:

“There is now a very real danger the FCC will back away from any attempt to ensure Net Neutrality. The time for all Guild members to act is now. An open Internet with freedom of access and expression is critical not only to the creativity of our membership but to American democracy. We cannot let it be controlled and dominated by a handful of major corporations. The FCC needs to hear from you – and now – because you are the people creating content. Let them know how important preserving Net Neutrality is to the future of media, news and entertainment.”

Unfortunately, the FCC chose to go in the opposite direction. On December 21, 2010, after the Commission announced regulations that permit many of the things that the WGAW opposed – regulations that Genachowski characterized as a “compromise” - the Guild issued this terse, disappointed statement:

“A compromise means the parties to a dispute reach agreement. Here, no one has agreed to anything. These tepid rules will be challenged in court and in Congress, and they fail in the most fundamental ways - permitting paid prioritization and all manner of discrimination in wireless. Our members write most of what people watch on television and in the movie theaters and increasingly, online. Today’s FCC vote will diminish our members’ ability to create and distribute innovative content and audiences’ ability to watch the content of their choice.”

Many observers expect the FCC’s new regulations to meet with stiff resistance from concerned parties and to be challenged in the courts. The battle to preserve Net Neutrality is not yet over, but the FCC has certainly dealt it a strong blow.

Comcast Vote
In Mid-December, non-unionized writers working for shows on several networks owned by cable giant Comcast voted to be represented by the WGA West. Comcast, which is currently negotiating to acquire NBC/Universal, immediately rejected the vote as being illegitimate. On December 15, the WGAW then issued this letter of support:

“Writers on Comcast’s entertainment networks E!, Style, and G4 have voted to be represented by the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW). Tuesday’s secret ballot election was monitored and certified by the office of L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti, and the results were announced by the councilmember today at City Hall. Writers from Comcast Entertainment Group’s cable networks shows, including The Soup, The Dish, Attack of the Show, and E! News, cheered as Garcetti announced the tally – 46 in favor of WGAW representation, 1 against."

“The results of this election send a clear message – these writers are serious about organizing and want Comcast to sit down with the WGAW to negotiate a contract on their behalf,” said the L.A. City Council President.

Despite being notified of the signing of union authorization cards by more than 80% of its writers, Comcast rejected their request to negotiate with the WGAW immediately, and instead chose to stall the process, saying it preferred an election controlled by the Federal government through the National Labor Relations Board. The writers then decided a representation election was in order.

“As professional writers, we're only asking for what our counterparts at NBC Universal have,” said The Dish writer Penelope Lombard. “We've selected the WGAW to represent us, and we expect Comcast to honor our decision.”

“Comcast made a public statement saying it believed in the sanctity of a secret ballot election and that’s exactly what we’ve participated in,” said The Soup writer Greg Fideler. “Comcast must now do its part and begin talks with the Writer's Guild.”

Last week, Comcast writers got a boost from their Writers Guild counterparts at NBC Universal (NBCU) when more than 140 writers with shows airing on NBCU’s broadcast or cable channels or whose shows are produced by NBCU signed a letter supporting the Comcast writers’ request for the company to enter into negotiations with the WGAW. Referring to the proposed merger between Comcast and NBC Universal, the letter stated, “If the Comcast-NBCU merger is approved, we will all be generating revenue for the same company. On February 25th, 2010, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts testified at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, saying: ‘And so one of our commitments upfront is we hope to continue the good relations with the guilds and with the unions that NBC Universal has.’ Therefore, we call on Comcast Entertainment Group to live up to its pledge and immediately recognize and negotiate with the Writers Guild of America, West.”

CBS News
On December 11, members of the Writers Guilds of America, East and West (WGAE and WGAW) employed at CBS News ratified a new collective bargaining agreement. The vote was: 83 % yes; 17% no. The three-year contract covers newswriters, writer/producers, editors, desk assistants, production assistants, graphic artists, and promotion writers working in television and radio on the national and local levels in New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

The contract, which runs from April 2, 2010 through April 6, 2013, provides solid economic support for members. CBS News staff employees will now be eligible for the Writers Guild pension fund, and the Guilds negotiated minimums for writer-producers for the first time. The contract also establishes minimum representation percentages at local television shops for the first time, guaranteeing the Guilds have a meaningful presence at CBS News as the broadcast news business continues to transform.

In an era where non-guild employees face wage freezes, contract salary rates will actually increase 2% in January 2011 and another 2% in April 2012 under the new Guild contract. Freelance/per diem employees will receive two additional 1% increases over the contract term.

“We achieved our main goals of ensuring that the Guilds and our members have a solid future at CBS News and also realize economic gains. Getting members into the Guild pension plan is a major advance, and we are pleased to also get wage increases for our members,” said Lowell Peterson, executive director of the Writers Guild of America, East.

“In these difficult economic times, and with the news business in such a period of serious change, we are pleased that our unions have successfully negotiated and voted approval of a new contract with CBS News. All credit and thanks to the hardworking, committed members of the negotiating committee and the staffs of the Guilds East and West," said Michael Winship, president of the Writers Guild of America, East.

“We want to thank the members of the negotiating committee for the countless hours of work they put into this effort. Their dedication helps keep our unions strong,” said John Wells, president of the Writers Guild of America, West.