Business law

Veteran studio negotiator faces amazing writers and actors


As union strikes continued in Hollywood, major figures took turns in the spotlight.

there Fran DrescherSurprising comedic actress ferocity, mobilizing the Actors Union against the television and film companies, angering studio executives in the process. Robert A. Iger, who leads Disney, Publicly retracted against striking workers, and found himself ridiculed in the picket lines as a robber baron.

But one of the key participants has remained a mystery: Carole Lombardini, 68, the studio’s chief union negotiator who has been involved in Hollywood’s labor battles for 41 years.

For someone who sits at the center of two increasingly bitter hits—the writers He got out of work on may 2, Followed by the actors On July 14 – very little is known about her. Ms. Lombardini has not interviewed more than a few words since 2009, when she rose from No. 2 to her position. become president of the Motion Picture and Television Producers Alliance, the organization that negotiates on behalf of the eight largest entertainment companies.

So far, her tenure has been marked by labor peace. studios He reached an agreement with the union of directors in June; The last time writers hit was in 2008, actors in 1980. Over the years, she told colleagues that cultivating her public persona would only undermine her effectiveness at the negotiating table. Or at least it won’t help. She declined to comment for this article.

Whether you want it or not, the spotlight has found it. Many union members blame her for the negotiation deadlock that has brought nearly all Hollywood film and television production to a halt. Partly because of her enigmatic personality and partly because she is an easy target, Mrs. Lombardini has become the embodiment of the grievances of tens of thousands of striking workers. “Carol can kick rocks,” said Caroline Rennard, a senior writer, this month on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

With her public persona absent, actors and writers have invented one. In May, someone started satirical account on X which portrayed Mrs. Lombardini as a crude tyrant who declares: “I am the Goddess of Chaos!” (Yes, she saw it, said a colleague. No, it’s not funny.)

Another group of screenwriters mocked Ms. Lombardini online, calling her an eccentric hangs out In the restaurant chain, the taunt was that no Hollywood person would ever be caught dead in one. (Her office is located near the Cheesecake Factory on the outskirts of Los Angeles.)

The other guild members seemed to be getting curious about the Oz-like negotiator behind the scenes. “Will we ever find out what Carole Lombardini is in the flesh ?!” asked Maridia Minor, writer, on Show X last week.

There are some known facts about Mrs. Lombardini. She is a devoted baseball fan. I grew up in a working-class town outside of Boston. Of course, it has tremendous power. Ms. Lombardini is responsible for negotiating all 58 Hollywood union agreements, from contracts with the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA, as the Actors Guild is known, to contracts with the American Federation of Musicians and the International Brotherhood of Electricians. . The way she handles herself — union officials who negotiated with her describe her as blunt but friendly — can make the difference between smooth conversations and a strike.

Jeff Rotheiser, who spent 40 years as a labor negotiator at Disney, ABC and NBC and recently wrote a book, The Pains of Work, based on that experience, described Ms. Lombardini as “fun” and “knows how to read a room”. And be tough when you need to be.

Ultimately, however, Mrs. Lombardini is an employee, though her duties require deft management of her ego. It responds to tycoons like Disney’s Mr. Iger and Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, who are not used to managing by committee. Other members of the alliance are NBCUniversal, Apple, and Warner Bros. Discovery, Amazon, Paramount Global and Sony Pictures. Mrs. Lombardini advises them on a course of action, but in the end they decide on strategy and then she carries out their orders.

In late July, for example, some company leaders pressured Ms. Lombardini to reopen negotiations with the writers’ union. (The two sides have not met since early May.) Although Mrs. Lombardini did not strongly object to this, she expressed her doubts; She wasn’t convinced the Writers Guild was willing to soften her stance, according to two studio bosses and a studio labor attorney involved in the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. In the end, the companies directed it to Re-handling the book.

Subsequent talks went badly, with the Writers’ Guild stuck to demands regarding minimal staffing of TV writers’ rooms and transparency in the streaming service’s viewership, among other things. Frustrated, studio leaders told Ms. Lombardini on Tuesday Release details From their sweet proposal — which included higher wages, a pledge to share some viewing data and extra protections around AI use — to the media. It was basically a strategy to get around the union’s negotiating committee and appeal to the rank and file members.

In a letter to its 11,500 members on Thursday, the Writers’ Guild said it was “not deterred by this latest tactic”.

The Writers’ Guild refused to discuss Mrs. Lombardini’s case. Other unions did the same. (SAG-AFTRA, whose contract covers tens of thousands of film and television actors, has not returned to the negotiating table in more than six weeks.) But the union leaders seemed to have a grudging respect for her.

“They’ve been around for a long time, they know what they’re doing, and they get a lot of respect as well,” said Lindsay Dougherty, lead organizer of Teamsters in Hollywood. interview with last year’s entertainment business newscast.

“I think she’s a fair character,” added Ms. Dougherty. (Team members represent drivers, casting directors, and fanciers, among other Hollywood specialties.)

Ms. Lombardini, an avid Red Sox and Dodgers fan, grew up working-class in Framingham, Massachusetts, and was inspired to become a lawyer by reading articles on F Lee Bailey, according to a colleague. After earning a BA in Renaissance history from the University of Chicago and a law degree from Stanford University, she began her career in Los Angeles law firms, majoring by accident after a firm transferred her from trusts and quiet real estate to her own. One loud action.

She has worked at Studio Alliance since its inception in 1982 and is married to William Colea prominent labor attorney whose clients often included studios.

“Carol takes on one of the most complex jobs in Hollywood — and it’s growing — but I think she clearly understands and appreciates the challenge,” said Barry M. Meyer, a former Warner Bros. chairman who worked closely with Ms. Lombardini. . “It was actually an integral part of her life’s work.”

By all accounts, Ms. Lombardini knows many cold union contracts, no small feat. The most recent Writers’ Guild contract ran to 740 pages. Ms. Lombardini is not a bigot in the negotiating room, according to the union officials who sat across from her at the table, but she can be blunt and stubborn. In a letter to its members this month, the Writers’ Guild said Ms. Lombardini would not discuss certain topics. “People just want to get back to work,” Carroll replied – which she repeated three times during the meeting.

In the past, studio leaders valued her efficiency. “Carol has done a very good job this past year,” Kevin Tsujihara, then president of Warner Bros., wrote in a 2014 email that was posted as part of the campaign. Sony Pictures hackNoting that it recently completed six negotiations.

“There was no overhead drama and everything was finished within the standards we set.” Mr. Tsujihara wrote. He recommended a bonus of $365,000, or 30% of her salary, which he listed at $1.2 million.

The task has become much more difficult. For starters, the relatively recent additions of the studio consortium of Apple, Netflix and Amazon have made its priorities more diverse and impractical than in the past. Unions have become more aggressive. The issues of compromise – the emergence of artificial intelligence, for example, and its potential to disrupt the creative process – are becoming more complex.

“She has to unify the different views of the studios and get everyone’s approval,” said Mr. Rutheiser, the business’s attorney. “And then she has another task of negotiating with the other side of the table.”

“The challenge now is greater than what I’ve seen before,” he added. “It’s bigger than anyone has ever seen.”


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