DemDaily: Hollywood Rallies Around Writers Guild Strike

May 24, 2023

The entertainment industry's writers went on strike May 2, shutting down some of the country's most popular sitcoms, network programs and late night shows, and freezing work on hundreds of more projects underway after negotiations broke down between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

The WGA, which represents approximately 11,500 union writers, is seeking a raise and job security for its members on a range of issues.

An historic 97.85% of WGA membership voted on April 18 to authorize a strike if an agreement was not reached by the end of their three-year contract, or Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA) -- which expired May 1 at 12:00 midnight Pacific time.

Lengthy arbitration with the AMPTP, which represents studios, TV networks and streaming platforms like Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Paramount, the Walt Disney Company, and Warner Bros. Discovery, failed to reach a deal before the mandated deadline.

The Issues
The major focus of the labor dispute is over residuals from streaming media which are not covered under the MBA -- which established a minimum wage only for broadcast television and film writers.

That means writers who work for streaming shows have to negotiate individually with companies for their pay, with some making less now than they did a decade ago.

“The companies’ behavior has created a gig economy inside a union workforce, and their immovable stance in this negotiation has betrayed a commitment to further devaluing the profession of writing.” - Writers Guild of America

The WGA is also seeking requirements for "mandatory staffing" and "duration of employment" terms to be added to their contract, which would require all shows to be staffed with a minimum number of writers for a minimum amount of time.

Additionally, the WGA is advocating for writers to receive their own pension and health care funds.

Writers also want artificial intelligence (AI) tools such as ChatGPT to be used only for assistance with research or to facilitate script ideas and not as a means to replace them.

According to the WGA’s calculations, industry profits have ballooned from $5 billion in 2000 to $28-$30 billion from 2017-2021. Spending on original streaming content grew from $5 billion in 2019 to $19 billion in 2023.

WGA's proposals would gain writers about $429 million in total per year, while AMPTP’s counter-proposal is an increase of about $86 million per year.

The effect of the strike was evident in what is normally TV’s glitzy annual network presentations to advertisers at Radio City Music Hall last week. Stars of new and returning series did not show up, refusing to cross the picket line of some 200 sign-carrying guild members.

The outcome of the WGA strike is likely to have a ripple effect on other industry union negotiations. SAG-AFTRA, the union for actors and voice actors, and the Directors Guild of America (DGA), which represents Hollywood directors, have contracts up for renegotiation at the end of June. They fully back WGA's industrial action, as does the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents truck drivers, animals wranglers, casting directors and locations scouts, among others. Both will be renegotiating their MBAs next year.

Additional unions and/or their affiliates that have expressed solidarity for WGA include the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, AFGE, AFT, Electrical Workers (IBEW), ILWU, Operating Engineers (IUOE), Laborers (LIUNA), Air Traffic Controllers (NATCA), NABET-CWA, NHL Players' Association, NEA, Plasterers and Cement Masons (OPCMIA), RWDSU, Service Employees (SEIU) and more.

Writer's unions in the United Kingdom, Australian, Canada, Europe, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Israel, Poland and Portugal have also pledged their support.

The last massive writer's strike, in 2007-2008, which stretched 100 days, had a profound impact -- costing $2.1 billion to California’s economy alone and the loss of 37,700 jobs.

DemList will keep you informed.

WGA Solidarity Supporters
DemDaily: Hollywood Descends on DC 5/2/23
DemDaily: The Fight Over Right To Work 3/27/23
DemDaily: On Strike! 3/21/23
DemDaily: The Right to Strike 1/12/23

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: LATimes, The Hollywood Reporter, Vox, Deadline, Milkin Institute, WGA

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