The Directors Guild of America is disputing a Writers Guild of America strike rule that bars writers and directors from making minor changes to a script.
The conflict revived a decades-long battle – which reached the US Supreme Court in 1978 – over the jurisdiction of the WGA. Although the Supreme Court ruled against the WGA, the union continued to argue that “hyphenated” members were prohibited from making minor script modifications while on strike.
Conflict boils down to eight types of activities—including cutting material for time, making dialogue adjustments, and changing stage directions—that the WGA considers written work within its remit.
The DGA views these activities—known as “(a) through (h) services” because of how they are defined in the contract clauses of the WGA Minimum Basic Agreement—as part of a manager’s job. According to the DGA, managers are required to continue to perform these services.
The conflicting advice affects writers and directors who belong to both guilds. The WGA threatened to discipline members who violated the rules of the strike, which could include fines, suspensions, or expulsion. The DGA said that the studios must reimburse the directors for the costs of any WGA system, but that the directors must perform these services if the request is made in writing.
The clause about minor script changes had been in the WGA’s contract since 1966, and had been a source of heated contention for nearly as long.
The clause specifically lists limited “writing services” that are not covered by the contract when performed by non-writers. The contract defines a writer as anyone employed to write literary material, but also anyone hired for any other purpose—director, producer, actor, etc.—who writes or reviews literary material. Services “(a) through (h)” are an exception to the latter definition. It’s a handful of writing things a producer or director can do without becoming a “writer” under contract.
The dispute was over how this clause should be read during the strike. The WGA asserts that these services, when performed by a writer or hyphen, constitute covered writing.
In the writers’ strike of 1973, several writers, directors, and directors crossed picket lines to serve as producers and directors. When they worked in this capacity, they were serving as supervisors – and therefore not on strike.
But the WGA has accused many of those members—including big names like Sam Peckinpah, Michael Crichton, and Philip Kaufman—of violating strike rules, which prohibit members from working in any capacity at distressed companies, per a 1975 National Labor Relations Board ruling. The strike rules also prohibited hyphens from going into the studio premises without the union’s permission.
The union held disciplinary trials against 15 people and approved sanctions against 10 of them. Two of them—John Mantley and David Victor—were expelled from the WGA and fined $50,000 each; Others have received smaller fines and/or suspensions.
The studios and networks filed an NLRB complaint challenging the union’s right to impose discipline on activity not covered by its contract.
The WGA argued – then as now – that it had the power to fine or fire directors and producers who perform “(a) through (h)” services. The union argued that although these services were excluded from the contract, they were nonetheless writing services within the jurisdiction of the union.
Sydney J. Barban, the administrative law judge who handled the case, disagreed.
“The argument misses the point,” Barban wrote in 1974, arguing that the issue was not whether such positions qualified “to write,” but rather whether they were covered by contract. It also found that such services are “acceptable as a normal part of the duties and responsibilities of line managers and supervisors”.
The NLRB adopted Barban’s conclusions. The WGA was ordered not to threaten any discipline—including fines, expulsion, blacklisting, and ostracism—against members for performing supervisory duties during the strike.
Case, American Broadcasting Cos. v. Writers Guild of America West, eventually went to the Supreme Court, which upheld the NLRB’s ruling in June 1978. In a 5-4 vote, the court found that the WGA had violated its national labor relations act by threatening supervisors with union discipline, thus denying employers their chosen representatives to grievance. For the purposes of collective bargaining.
in judgmentThe court stated that the services of “(a) through (h)” “are not expressly covered by the contracts entered into between the plaintiffs and the defendant”. The court also cited Barban’s conclusion that such services fall within the normal duties of line managers and supervisors.
By this point, the hot feelings of the 1973 strike had cooled somewhat. Expulsions have long since been canceled and fines have been significantly reduced. Nothing is paid.
Mantley, who was the executive producer of “Gunsmoke” at the time of the strike, was quoted in diverse The day after the court’s decision.
He said, “I am very pleased that I have always tried to act in what I thought was an honorable manner, and I am glad that the Court has upheld my position.” “I think it will clarify the entire position of the hyphen in regard to future strikes.”
The WGA has since sought to remove the “(a) to (h)” exception from its contract. according to diverse Since 1984, that was one of the union’s demands for the studios during contract negotiations that year.
However, the exception—and the controversy over it—remained.
To support its point, the WGA points to a 1987 Supreme Court ruling, NLRB v. IBEW, which upheld union discipline against two female supervisors. In this case, the court found that the supervisors’ grievances and collective bargaining duties must be real, not speculative, in order for union discipline to conflict with federal law.
“The ABC is no longer good law,” said Tony Segal, general counsel for the WGA West. “By IBEW’s decision, you must already have evidence of them carrying out these duties. ABC would have come out differently had it followed the rule at IBEW.”
At the same time, the WGA acknowledges that it cannot prevent members from serving solely as directors or producers while on strike, as long as those members do not perform any writing services. However, it continued to argue that items “(a) through (h)” constituted prohibited writing services.
During the 2007–08 strike, the WGA warned hyphens (at this point, they were called “showrunners” in television) that they could face union discipline for performing “(a) through (h) services.” studios argue A hyphen can go ahead and perform those functions, despite what the guild said. DGA agreed with the studios, taking the same position as now.
But neither the studios nor the union have recently pressed the issue by filing an NLRB complaint. No case has directly addressed the issue since the 1978 ruling.
During the 2023 strike, Disney really did Advice to patrons that they can continue to perform the functions “(a) through (h)” during the strike. WGA answered on Twitter, by saying that such services are “specifically defined in the union contract as writing services, and therefore constitute battered work that union members are prohibited from doing while business is off.”
The WGA also accused Disney of engaging in “familiar union-busting tactics”.
The DGA has now also upheld it, holding that “(a) to (h)” services are not covered by the WGA contract and therefore not subject to strike action.
“Although their own agreement excludes these services from coverage, the WGA has threatened to discipline members who provide ‘(a) through (h) services’ on projects that have been struck,” the DGA told its members. However, the link managers are required by the “no strike clause” in the underlying DGA agreement to continue to provide routing services while the WGA is on strike, and their responsibilities traditionally include “(a) through (h)” services.
The DGA also issued a statement of solidarity with the WGA during the strike. DGA Negotiation Committee Chairman Jon Avnet appeared on stage at the WGA Gathering at the Shrine Auditorium on May 3.
However, the disagreement over strike rules shows that the two unions are not necessarily on the same page in all respects.
In a statement, the DGA said it supports the WGA’s efforts to obtain a fair deal from the studios.
“At the same time, the DGA has a duty to clarify information about our members’ rights and responsibilities in their contracts, including potential actions that could place them in breach of contract,” the DGA said. “We have advised our members on their rights and responsibilities so that they can make informed decisions regarding their employment. Although we differ from the WGA in our stance on specific legal and contractual issues in this area, we still support the book’s ultimate goal: a fair deal with AMPTP.”
Services (a) through (h) described in the WGA Minimum Basic Agreement are:
(a) Cut-off time
(b) The bridging materials required to cut for the time
(c) Changes in artistic trends or stage
(d) Assigning lines to other existing characters resulting from cast changes
(e) Changes necessary to obtain continued acceptance or legal authorization
(f) occasional minor alterations in dialogue or narration prior to or during principal photography
(g) Changes in the course of production that are necessary due to unforeseen contingencies (eg, items, accidents to performers, etc.)
(h) instructions, directions, or suggestions, whether oral or written, given to the writer in connection with the story or screenplay
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