By a wide margin, members of the Writers Guild of America voted to reject a producers' contract offer and continue their 16-week-old strike against the motion picture and television industry, the union reported Thursday.
Of 3,722 votes cast, 2,789, or 74.9%, were against the contract and 933, or 25.1%, were in favor. Guild officers said the vote signaled a record turnout for the 9,000-member union.
The rejection sharply heightened prospects that the work stoppage will continue for weeks or even months, forcing more layoffs in the film industry, indefinitely delaying some movie productions and pushing back even further the debut of the fall television season, which already has been postponed until at least mid-October.
"It's disastrous for the entire business," said Paul Junger Witt, a member of the Writers Guild and co-executive producer of "The Golden Girls" and "Beauty and the Beast."
No new bargaining talks are scheduled. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said it considered the bargaining "concluded" and claimed "the WGA's decision to reject our offer was based on emotion rather than on the substance of the offer."
The guild said "the membership is prepared to continue to sacrifice until we have a contract which embodies the principles for which they have been on strike."
With no end to the walkout in sight, the guild will try to continue to negotiate agreements with individual producers. Meanwhile, the alliance said its member companies are "moving ahead" to produce as many TV programs as possible--perhaps with foreign or non-union writers, or with scripts written by guild members under pseudonyms--but would "curtail" studio operations wherever necessary.
Layoff notices began almost simultaneously with the announcement of the voting results. At Universal Studios, a memo went out to employees Thursday announcing that the commissary will close today. And more layoffs are planned.
"It's devastating," said Dan Slusser, senior vice president and general manager of Universal City Studios Inc. "We've already made a number of cutbacks in the TV and studio operations group. Now we're going back with an even finer look."
Failure to reach agreement on a producers' demand for scaled-back residuals on one-hour television shows and a writers' demand for higher residuals for foreign sales of movies and TV shows have emerged as the main issues separating the two sides.
The guild also has suggested that the future of the union is at stake in the strike.
In a memorandum sent to guild members before the Wednesday vote, Brian Walton, the union's chief negotiator, wrote: "The Alliance and networks will threaten you, our pension and health plan, the existence of the Guild, and more. . . . But if you convincingly vote NO on Wednesday, we believe they must deal with you. Where else will they get scripts?"
Producers angrily dismiss this assertion. "The guild's viability was never and is not now an issue," the alliance said in its statement Thursday. Additionally, Sidney Sheinberg, president of MCA Inc., has called Walton's claim "the last defense of a poor position. . . . If the guild didn't exist, we'd have to invent it."
At an outdoor press conference behind the guild's West Hollywood headquarters, union President George Kirgo said: "This overwhelming vote . . . not to accept this latest offer is a ringing affirmation that the leadership of the guild has the support of its membership."
At an impromptu press conference in front of the guild offices, Lionel Chetwynd and other members of the Writers Coalition, which had supported the contract proposal, said they believed the margin of rejection signaled that the producers would have to resume their contract talks.
But Chetwynd argued that the 933 "yes" votes showed that regularly working members of the guild, as opposed to those who sell scripts occasionally, were strongly in favor of a rapid settlement.
"A war of attrition will destroy us all," Chetwynd said.
At the guild's press conference, Walton said he didn't believe that the number of "yes" votes would increase pressure on guild leaders. "We have always had that pressure," said Walton, who pointed out that the guild struck in 1985 and 1981 on the basis of pro-strike votes of just over 60%.
At a rousing membership meeting in the Hollywood Palladium on Wednesday night, Walton received a standing ovation from guild members after he described objections to the contract proposal and called for unity. He told members that he expected the strike to be over soon if they remained united against the producers' offer.
But Grant Tinker, former chairman of NBC and now head of a TV production company, GTG Entertainment, said the guild's rejection would not bring about any conciliation with producers.
"It looks like the writers are shooting the whole industry in the foot--and they're doing it willfully and stupidly," he said.
". . . Nothing is going to change. It's just pigheaded and stupid for the writers to have so badly misread what's going on here," Tinker said in an interview, adding, "and some of my best friends are writers."
The guild already has signed 104 production companies--most of them small independents--to contracts, and Walton predicted that more will break ranks with the producers' alliance and follow suit.
Sheinberg said earlier this week, however, that 30 large TV production companies had met with network representatives at alliance headquarters and vowed to avoid independent contracts. The networks were unequivocal in their support for the producers, he said.
The strike, which began March 7, has already become one of the most severe labor disputes in Hollywood's recent history.
Times staff writer Nina J. Easton contributed to this story.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun