Writers' Strike Set to End

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In order to play fictional comedy writer Liz Lemon on the hit comedy “30 Rock” real comedy writer Tina Fey needs actual comedy writers, from the Writers Guild of America, to script her jokes. But since November 5, the entertainment writers’ strike has prevented NBC (GE), which broadcasts “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live” among other comedy shows, as well as the other TV networks and Hollywood movie studios, from having any fresh material to work with.

But yesterday, union leaders voted to end picketing and to return to work as early as Wednesday, pending a full union-vote on Tuesday when the WGA’s 3,500 members are expected to approve a new three-year deal with all major Hollywood studios including CBS Corporation (CBS), MGM (6758), NBC Universal (GE), News Corp/Fox (NWS),  Paramount Pictures (VIA), Sony Pictures Entertainment (6758), the Walt Disney Company (DIS), and Warner Brothers (TWX). A resolution would be especially timely for the February 24 annual broadcast of the Academy Awards, which might now be filled with professionally written jokes.

This negotiation has been a tough one for the writers but the compromise looks to be a fair one for them. Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. (LAEDC), estimates that the strike has cost the writers $278 million—and that’s only counting Los Angeles—in lost wages since the strike began. By comparison, the cost of the writers’ original three-year proposal was $151 million. However, under the deal, for content downloaded or streamed online for free, the writers would get $1,200 a year, at most, for each of the first two years. After that, they would get 2% of the distributor’s gross revenue. As for movies and TV shows sold online, the writers’ share would double. Given the potential for revenues to be made from new media, the writers seem satisfied.

“My general feeling is I think it's a good deal. The percentages are better than I expected, and it’s the first deal that seems to set a standard for writers doing original work for the internet,” says SNL writer Bryan Tucker. ”I'm glad it is over, and I'm damn glad to get back to work again,” 

Whether or not you can afford to picket for three months to secure a raise, experts agree that if you are negotiating a new contract you need to be prepared and dedicated to your cause.

“Always start by doing your homework so you can request a salary that is realistic both for you and for the industry in which you work,” says Hallie Crawford, a certified career coach based in Atlanta, Georgia “Internet research is the way to go. Many professions have associations that publish reports online with average salary ranges.” The writers made their case by using the numbers involved to their advantage. Just look at their website to see how clearly their argument is put out.

Ask directly about how much the company has budgeted for your job. Many times an employer will ask for your salary requirements upfront. “Flip it and ask ‘what kind of budget are you guys working with for the position,’” says Joel Garfinkle, a certified career coach based in Oakland, California. “The sooner you know, the sooner you can negotiate more effectively.”

After your research determine the scope of what your ideal salary is, including your absolute minimum. “Make sure whatever the minimum is, you will be comfortable with it and not regret it later on,” says Crawford, who suggests starting salary negotiations 5 to 10% higher than what you are willing to take. Garfinkle, however, says aim higher and add 20% to what you think you are actually worth, not what you think you are going to get.  “If you want $90,000 say $95,000 [and] then suddenly you’re at your base,” says Garfinkle. “Say $125,000, and you have $30,000 to work with, and that makes a big difference.”

If possible, negotiate face to face. Asking for a 20% salary bump might send your employer into convulsions so you want to be able to read body language. “You can tell if you’re way off base,” says Crawford. “Having that person see you’re an actual person rather than just a voice over the phone will help you connect with them better.” If you are going for heavy money, be prepared to give at least five reasons why you deserve more. “Show by measurable results that prove what you’ve done with articulated examples and stories,” says Garfinkle.

Lastly, when you do get a formal offer, do not feel pressure to accept on the spot. Crawford suggests her clients sit on the offer for at least 24 hours. “Think about it, you never know what’s going to happen the next day,” she says. “But don’t let it drag on forever.”  But as with the case of the writers strike, sometimes dragging on for three months can get results.

 

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