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Writers Guild president blasts challenger John Wells [UPDATED]

August 28, 2009 | 11:55 am
UPDATED WITH JOHN WELLS' RESPONSE AT BOTTOM

JohnWells The contest to elect a new president of the Writers Guild of America, West took an unusually heated turn today, when the union's current president and a key figure in last year's contract negotiations blasted John Wells, the writer and producer who aims to be the union's next leader.


In an e-mail to guild members, Patric M. Verrone, the union's outgoing president, and John F. Bowman, the former head of the negotiating committee, accused Wells of undermining their efforts during last year's contract negotiations.

They openly disputed Well's claims that he worked with guild leaders in the last contract negotiations to forge a deal that ended a 100-day strike in February 2008. The men alleged that Wells kept them in the dark about his involvement in Directors Guild of America negotiations. The DGA deal served as a template for the Writers Guild contract that Wells had openly supported in a widely circulated e-mail last year before the writers concluded their own talks.

"As it worked out, after John publicly supported the DGA deal, without also publicly stating his own involvement, our hands as negotiators were tied,'' Verrone and Bowman wrote. "We'd been on strike for three months and people wanted to go back to work.  We understood this. What we did not understand, and still don't, is why one of our own would negotiate with the DGA without informing his Guild's president or the chair of its negotiating committee."

"This is what you get with John Wells.  He does his own thing.  He doesn't depend upon the will of our Guild's membership, but upon the strength of his relationships with management, " the e-mail continued.

Wells, who backed the strike but has criticized the guild's confrontational style with studios and its  campaign to organize reality TV workers, was not immediately available for comment. Wells and his supporters have touted his experience as a negotiator, citing contract gains the union achieved in 2001 and have rejection assertions that he is too close to management.

"There's a huge difference being cordial with management and being beholden to management,'' Wells wrote in his candidate statement. "Vilifying those across the table may feel good, but it's bad business for us, just as they've discovered vilifying writers was bad business for them ... you can't accomplish anything if you're not talking."
The missive from Verrone and Bowman, which was distributed to union members on the same week they received their ballots and candidate statements, was unusually pointed, even by the standards of guild elections. It underscores just how split the union is on the eve of electing a new leader. In addition to the election of new officers, there are 17 candidates competing for eight open seats on the guild's board. Ballots will be counted Sept. 18.

Verrone and Bowman are both supporters of  Elias Davis, the former "MASH" and "Frasier" writer. Davis is currently the union's secretary treasurer. He is running against Wells, executive producer behind NBC's "Southland" and the hit TV shows "ER" and "West Wing." Wells previously served as the guild's president in 1999 and 2001. Elias Davis Photo 2

Davis' supporters back the current administration of Verrone, who is prohibited under guild rules from seeking a third term, against Wells, a powerful figure in the television industry who keeps and office on the lot of Warner Bros.

Wells' name recognition and past experience as union president would appear to give him the edge, but the election has been closer than anticipated, with both candidates drawing high level endorsements. A majority of board members is backing Davis while most of last year's negotiating committee is supporting Wells.

Davis' supporters include Paul Haggis, Shawn Ryan and Larry Gelbart and many of the strike captains who successfully mobilized the union's rank and file during last year's walkout. Wells has drawn endorsements from such writers as Marc Cherry, Bill Condon, Scott Frank and Robert King, one of the founding members of the Writers United group, which swept Verrone into office four years ago.

Wells was among a group of prominent moderates who backed the strike but also worked behind the scenes to help bring the dispute to a close. His actions were welcomed by some writers, who feared the leadership didn't have a plan to end the months-long stalemate with studios. Others, such as Verrone and Bowman, believed his efforts undermined the union's own bargaining position.

UPDATE (5 PM) John Wells dismissed as "false" and "ridiculous" allegations that he was secretly involved in the Directors Guild of America's contract talks last year. In fact, Wells said he was not involved in the DGA negotiations. Rather, he said he was asked by several members of the guild's negotiating committee to give them updates on the DGA talks because there was no communication between the guilds. "This is just an attempt to obscure the real question, which is how, in the midst of a very well run strike, did we end up at such odds with our sister union that they felt they could come in and negotiate over us? The current leadership has to accept some responsibility for that."

-- Richard Verrier

Photo (top): John Wells. Credit: Jill Connelly / Associated Press

Photo (bottom): Elias Davis. Credit: Elias Davis

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