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More Thoughts from a Labor Negotiator on the Hollywood Writers’ Strike

When we first wrote about the writers’ strike and the active picketing just down the street here at Paramount on Santa Monica and CBS on Beverly Boulevard, we asked our friend Jim Stott for comment.

Because Jim’s excellent comment was buried in small type in our “comments” section, I give it its due here by bringing it up into a post of its own.

(for “live” WGA Strike Blogging from the Los Angeles Times, click here)

After noting that his own comments are not “in any way intended to minimize, diminish or otherwise criticize the hard efforts of the writers, producers or federal mediator’s efforts to reach agreement in this ongoing dispute,” Jim opines as follows:

Often, both parties become “blinded by the sparks” associated with their lack of progress at the bargaining table. In those situations, a psychological phenomenon occurs wherein parties start start to blame the ‘other side’ through personal attacks; one against the other. As this practice grows, the underlying issues that really need to be discussed are subsumed by the superficial and surface diatribes.

Obviously – to the outsider – settlement can only be reached when the parties focus on the substantive and underlying issues as a mutual and common problem. Often, both sides fail to realize that a problem for one contingent group is ultimately a problem for all contingents. If force, i.e., a work stoppage or lock-out is used as a means for getting the ‘other side’ to soften their positions, the latent residual feeling caused by such an action is often long-lasting and will materially damage the ongoing relationship between all stakeholders involved.

In practice and theory, writers need work provided by the producers, just as producers need the work-product of the writers. In negotiations, it is this symbiotic internal relationship that is most important. Long after the work stoppage has been resolved, the latent and labile underlying emotional distrust and dissatisfaction will continue; often for years.

The federal mediator assigned to this particular case is exceptionally well qualified. He is a colleague and friend. I have no doubt that his professional services provided in this situation were of the highest quality.

Rarely however, even with the presence of a mediator, negotiations break down and reach impasse. Intractable parties are often the stock-in-trade for federal mediators. It not at all unusual to hear the warring factions self-diagnose their positions as being “miles apart.” On rare occasions though, parties are so far apart that their tangential distances and differences, when measured in cost and dollars can be significant.

It would appear that producers and writers are faced with unanticipated outcomes associated with the expotential growth of the broadband internet capacity and online streaming video and audio. On the one hand, producers may see this as a marketing and distribution opportunity, by which they will increase audience participation and marketshare. While at the same time however, writers may see this exploding media as one in which their recognition, compensation and earning potential has been and will be diluted and otherwise diminished.

These complex negotiations are never easy and are often rocky. The challenge to all the stakeholders is to continue the conversation and continue to make progress, albeit ever-so-slowly. Even if their conversations are not face-to-face, but done through an intermediary; they are critically important.

As long as all dialogue has stopped, there virtually is no chance the impasse will self-resolve; thus the stand off will continue indefinitely. This is precisely what happened in the Caterpillar work stoppage which lasted over five years. All communication stopped. Distrust on both sides grew expotentially. Replacement workers were hired. All the while, the union pickets were outside the plant, locked out, while the plant production continued to grow.

While this is an extreme case in labor management relationships, it is my hope that productive conversations, clandestine and off the record or not, continue. This is the only way in which this dispute will resolve without inflicting extensive and long-lasting damage to all stakeholders.

Currently, Jim Stott is a Principal and Senior Consultant with Stott & Associates of Gig Harbor, Washington. Until recently, he was Assistant Director at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, Pepperdine University School of Law.

Prior to joining Straus, Jim spent nearly six years as a Commissioner with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., where he provided collective bargaining mediation and negotiation consultation services to federal agencies, private and public sector employers, and labor unions.

Jim was also instrumental in the design and development of joint labor/management committee problem solving protocols used by Los Angeles Dodgers, Southwest Airlines, Toyota, Kaiser Permanente, Boeing and Walt Disney Studios.

In his professional and academic career, Jim mediated more then 1,500 disputes. The majority of these conflicts were associated with employment, labor/management or collective bargaining issues. Jim has also provided pro-active and pre-emptive conflict management design systems. In his teaching and coaching capacity, he has taught mediation protocols and processes to over 1,500 students in academic settings, court programs, international labor unions as well as management/employer groups including CUE.

Jim holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business and Management from University of Redlands, as well as a Masters Degree in Dispute Resolution from Pepperdine University School of Law.




Victoria Pynchon

Attorney-mediator Victoria Pynchon is a panelist with ADR Services, Inc. Ms. Pynchon was awarded her LL.M Degree in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute in May of 2006, after 25 years of complex commercial litigation practice, with sub-specialties in intellectual property, securities fraud, antitrust, insurance coverage, consumer class actions and all… MORE >

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