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New York writers rally behind 'significant moment'

February 9, 2008 |  3:52 pm

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After a two-and-a-half-hour-long gathering Saturday, writers streamed out of the third-floor ballroom at the Crowne Plaza Hotel expressing optimism about the deal and pride in the guild's solidarity.

Inside, a smiling Michael Winship, president of WGA East, paced the empty Crowne Plaza ballroom with a cellphone pressed to his ear, relaying the details of the meeting to his counterpart in L.A., Patric Verrone.

After he got off the phone, Winship said the overwhelming share of the more than 500 writers who turned out for the meeting were "very much behind" the new contract.

"We had a very good meeting with the membership," he said. "We had a very lively discussion, a free exchange of ideas. At the moment, I feel strongly that it has a very good chance of going through."

Winship said the guild members had a lot of questions, and they stayed until every one had been answered.

"Basically, people wanted to have the math explained to them," he said. "I think we came away with a good deal," Winship added. "I hope the membership endorses it. We struck on the issues of jurisdiction of new media and distributors' gross, and we made advances in both those areas. So I'm happy."

If the West Coast guild concurs, the union leaders will have to decide tomorrow when to lift the strike. They could wait until the membership votes on the contract, but under the guild's constitution, that vote must be held 48 hours after the board vote, if the members vote through in-person meetings, or 10 days after the board vote, if the members vote by mail. 

"The question is, do you rescind the strike before a membership vote, and some people don't want to do that," said Warren Leight, executive producer of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."

That could mean the strike won't officially end until midweek. 

But even without a clear sense of when the labor stoppage would be over, there was a sense among the New York writers that they had reached the end of a difficult journey.

Bill Scheft, a writer for the "Late Show with David Letterman," said he knew the contract was a good one when Terry George, a member of the negotiating committee, opened the meeting by saying: "We've defeated a tradition of rollbacks that began with the air traffic controllers."

"To me, that was the most significant moment," Scheft said. "To me, this was all about, do we have a system in place [for new media] where there was no system before. And the answer is yes."

Scheft said the mood in the room was largely positive, but cautioned that "we're talking about the East."

"The Shrine, that's where the action is," he added. 

For his part, filmmaker Michael Moore came out of the meeting substantially more enthusiastic than when he entered.

"This is an historic moment for labor in this country," Moore said. "To have the writers union stand up like we did, not give back a single thing and make them give -- it was a really great moment to sit in there and listen to everything."

More news on the strike

--Matea Gold

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