Striking writers to debate labor deal on Saturday

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Writers Guild of America plans to brief its members this weekend on a deal taking shape to end their 3-month-old strike, using the meetings to gauge rank-and-file support for the labor plan, union leaders said on Tuesday.

Picketers from the Writers Guild Of America demonstrate in front of the studio where "The Daily Show" is filmed in New York, January 7, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

If members react favorably to the proposed deal at meetings set for Saturday in New York and Los Angeles, WGA leaders could act to lift or suspend the strike while a formal ratification process gets under way, two sources told Reuters.

Those sources, who are familiar with the circumstances but are barred from speaking publicly about them under a media blackout for the talks, cautioned, however, that no formal deal with the studios was yet in place. They said negotiators were still working out fine points in the contract language.

Hard-liners among the guild’s leadership are expected to recommend a cautious approach on what steps to take next.

“There’s lots of members urging the strike lasts until the contract is signed and ratified by the guild,” one source said.

The latest communique from the presidents of WGA East and West Coast branches signaled that momentum toward reaching a settlement of the worst Hollywood labor clash in 20 years was progressing.

“We are continuing to negotiate the terms of a tentative agreement with the (studios),” said Michael Winship of the WGA East and Patric Verrone of the WGA West in an online message announcing the membership meeting schedules.

“We anticipate that we will be able to present the terms of that agreement to you in the next few days,” they wrote, adding that the union leaders were seeking a “full discussion” with the rank-and-file on terms of the proposed deal.

They promised that neither the union’s negotiating committee, nor its East and West governing boards “will take action on any contract until after the membership meetings are held and your voices have been heard.”

People briefed on the status of the talks told Reuters on Monday that negotiators had agreed to the outlines of a deal during a marathon bargaining session last Friday.

The outcome of the talks have hinged on the WGA’s demands for a greater share of revenue from film and TV content distributed over the Internet. And the big breakthrough came on the key sticking point of how much writers will be paid for ad-supported online “streaming” of television shows.

One source characterized the proposed writers’ deal as an improvement over terms of an earlier labor pact for Hollywood directors that helped pave the way for studios and the WGA to resume bargaining on January 23, after weeks of stalemate.

Some 10,500 WGA members walked off the job on November 5, four days after the expiration of their old contract with film and TV studios.

The work stoppage has derailed some Hollywood movie productions but has hit the U.S. television industry hardest, forcing most prime-time comedies and dramas off the air and idling thousands of crew members who work on them.

Lost wages and earnings in the Los Angeles area alone are estimated to have run close to $2 billion.

Even if the strike were settled immediately, TV industry insiders say it would take at least four to six weeks to get production of idled television shows back into full swing.

Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Mary Milliken and Sandra Maler