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WGA Strike Primer: Alec Baldwin Swings and Misses

12/27/2007 11:14 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It is not my pleasure to be the Designated Responder. I would rather stick marbles in my nose or eat beets.

However, when people repeatedly are factually incorrect or speak repeatedly from zero knowledge, it demands a response. Especially when it concerns my livelihood, and those of my colleagues. For the most part, my colleagues don't have a platform to respond. I do. I get their angry emails, so it's my responsibility to step up. Sorry. But that's the way life works.

Yet, still, I was willing to leave Alec Baldwin to his whims when he wrote in a blog, "the Writer's Guild needs to replace their negotiators." And reiterated, "Get rid of Verrone." (That's Patric Verrone, president of the WGA.)

Fine, he was having a bad day. It's the holidays and people get flummoxed. Whatever. Though not even a complaint about the AMPTP negotiators? Odd. But...whatever.

"The current WGA negotiators," he intoned, "do not represent the best hope the WGA has right now and should be replaced."

Whether Mr. Baldwin is playing the dupe, buying into the AMPTP corporations' character assassinations of Patric Verrone and David Young, the Guild's chief negotiator, is not for me to say. Perhaps he is simply misguided. But he clearly doesn't have a clue how the negotiations are handled.

Here's how it actually works:

The Writers Guild has a distinguished negotiating committee, made up of TV showrunners, Emmy winners and Oscar winners. The AMPTP corporations can't attack these people as irresponsible...because they're the very people they hire to run their TV series and write their huge movies. So, they attack the two leaders. It's basic. And obvious. And pathetic.

It's this negotiating committee which sets the agenda. Debating amongst themselves what the pattern of demands should be, and how the negotiations should be handled. Their directive is then given to Young and Verrone. Mr. Baldwin seems to posture that they're winging it. Alas, this is not improv theater. It doesn't work that way.

In fact, Patric Verrone and David Young have the significant support of WGA membership. This support comes from the thousands of writers daily pounding the sidewalks, discussing among themselves at length the issues, questioning Guild board members on the lines. Mr. Verrone, actually, knows well what he is doing. He happens to have graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, and has a law degree from Boston College, where he served on the Law Review. He's very smart. Smarter than most of the CEOs of the AMPTP likely. Perhaps smarter even than Mr. Baldwin.

David Young knows what he's doing, too. This may be his first labor negotiation, but he's long-credentialed in the labor movement. It's why he was hired.

But the main reason Mr. Baldwin is so bizarrely wrong is because the impasse in negotiations has absolutely nothing to do with Writers Guild leadership. Zero. It's because the AMPTP corporations do not want to negotiate - they're testing Guild resolve and they walked away from the table.

Twice, in fact.

The "six demands" the AMPTP insists on before they'll deign to return are smoke-and-mirrors. Those aren't strike issues. If the Guild caves in to demands of what can merely be discussed, as Mr. Baldwin seemingly wants, it loses. Period. Game over. And you don't replace your leadership because the other side doesn't like them. Mr. Baldwin's unthinking positions guarantee the end of the Writers Guild.

To Alec Baldwin, director Gil Cates is All That Is Holy in negotiating. He writes, "the directors, who have typically fielded the most effective negotiators of the three guilds will step in and, once again, school everyone." In fact, it was Gil Cates in the mid-1980s who lead the directors negotiation that infamously removed 80% of residuals for home video. This became the problematic pattern by which unions now get paltry cents. Some ace negotiating. Some schooling. It is the WGA over the decades which has struck and gotten the conditions that became the pattern for all guilds. Give Mr. Baldwin an F.

Alec Baldwin postulates that "in our business" one should only strike knowing how to end it. (As if that's not how it's done in other businesses...) The Writers Guild leadership knows how to end it. It made proposals so reasonable that a Pepperdine University poll shows the public favoring writers 63%-4%. Either Mr. Baldwin is in the 4%, or he's just tap dancing. The eminent Wall Street firm Bear Stearns released a report last week that noted, "From Wall Street's perspective, we estimate the impact of accepting the [writers'] proposal is largely negligible." (Just guessing, but Bear Stearns probably knows more about this than Alec Baldwin, too.) The Writers Guild leadership can end the strike - if the AMPTP corporations return to the bargaining table.

Here's the problem: if Mr. Baldwin had just one, single, specific example of what WGA leadership has done which caused the impasse, he should have expressed it. Instead, he's offered nothing. Instead, he leaves us with a song-and-dance.

There's an old joke about "I'm not a doctor, but I do play one on TV." I know that Alec Baldwin plays a GE executive on TV - but he doesn't have to act like one in real life.

Read more about the strike on the Huffington Post's writers' strike page.