February 27, 2008 / 12:47 AM / 9 years ago

Film and television writers approve contract

<p>File photo shows members of the Writers Guild of America carry signs on the picket line at NBC studios in Burbank, California, February 8, 2008.Fred Prouser</p>

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Film and television writers, whose months-long strike crippled U.S. television production until it ended earlier this month, have overwhelmingly approved a new contract with major producers, the writers' union said on Tuesday.

The Writers Guild of America said 93.6 percent of 4,060 votes cast were in favor of the new three-year contract that runs through May 1, 2011. Guild President Patric Verrone called it "a new beginning for writers in the Digital Age."

In a separate statement, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said that now that the industry is back at work, their goal is to produce top quality work without further interruptions.

Some 10,500 members of the WGA went on strike against major film and TV producers in November over labor issues centering largely on how they would be paid for work distributed over the Internet.

After about 100 days off the job, WGA negotiators reached a deal with the studios, and the writers returned to work on February 13. The presentation of the world's top film awards, the Oscars, had been in doubt, but the ceremony went off without a problem on Sunday.

Still, numerous TV shows stopped production and are just now beginning to ramp up.

More than $2 billion was lost in wages and earnings in the Los Angeles area alone, as people with jobs on TV shows and on some movie sets went without work. Restaurants, taxicabs, hotels and other businesses saw their revenues decline.

But Hollywood's labor issues are not over. The Screen Actors Guild will soon begin its own negotiations with the AMPTP over a new contract, and the issues that will be addressed are the same as those over which writers and producers haggled.

The current SAG contract covering some 120,000 movie and TV performers comes up for renewal in June, and SAG leaders have vowed to take a hard line in the upcoming talks.

Yet, in recent weeks high-profile actors like George Clooney have encouraged their union's leaders to avoid a work stoppage and keep the industry working.

The WGA leaders said key new ground they gained in their contract established WGA jurisdiction over writing for new media, set fees for work that was downloaded and streamed on the Web, and created auditing tools for the union to monitor the development of work for the Internet.

Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Eric Walsh

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