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Echo Park in Los Angeles (Photo: Evan Symon for California Globe)

Writers Guild Of America Strike Begins

Striking over streaming residuals, AI limits, picket lines form outside studio offices in LA, NY

By Evan Symon, May 2, 2023 12:56 pm

The Writers Guild of America (WGA), the union representing writers in film, television, radio, news, and online media, began a strike on Tuesday after failing to reach an agreement with major studio and television producers, affecting 11,500 union members mainly in New York and Los Angeles and delaying many TV shows and movies for the foreseeable future.

The WGA, comprised of both the Writers Guild of America East and the Writers Guild of America West, has previously gone on strike 5 times since 1960, with the last two in 1988 and 2007-2008. The 1988 strike lasted for 153 days as writers and producers fought over residuals, cost cutting measures, and creative rights, while the 2007-2008 strike , which was over DVD residuals, where credit lies in online material, and concerns over credits in animation, lasted for 100 days. The latter, in particular, was devastating to the economies of both California and LA, with the economy of LA hurt by around $1.5 billion, and total losses over a decade later reported at $2.1 billion, costing around 38,000 jobs.

While new contracts have been agreed to for the last several cycles, with many not wanting to see that kind of economic loss again, a whole host of issues came to the forefront in the latest contract negotiation. Spurred by the growth of streaming services since the late 2010s, the WGA said that they wanting streaming factored in  to payment plans for writers as residual fees for writers, typically paid for on-air broadcasts or reruns.

As shows on streaming services tend to have fewer episodes, writers also want a more structured deal for better pay, as total pay has gone down 4%, or 23% with inflation, since the last strike according to the WGA. In addition to better pay, the WGA also wants a minimum number of writers on writing staff to ensure continued employment as well as regulation on the use of artificial intelligence.

A new WGA strike

However, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) has countered that these demands aren’t reasonable, saying the minimum writers demand in particular being egregious since it would require many writers even if they weren’t needed.

Over the last several months, both sides have gone to the negotiation table. However, on Monday, the last day before the strike, negotiations finally broke completely down. The issue of AI in writing remained far apart, with studios insisting to meet on the use of AI with writers rather than box them into a corner with negotiations, and the WGA and AMPTP far apart on compensation. The AMPTP’s final offer was for a cumulative $86 million more for writers per year while the WGA was still standing on their proposal of an additional $429 million per years for writer’s compensation. With no compromise in sight, the WGA began their strike at midnight on Tuesday.

In a statement on Monday following the end of negotiations, the WGA said that “Following the unanimous recommendation of the WGA Negotiating Committee, the Board of Directors of the Writers Guild of America West (WGAW) and the Council of the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), acting upon the authority granted to them by their memberships, have voted unanimously to call a strike, effective 12:01 AM, Tuesday, May 2.

“The decision was made following six weeks of negotiations with Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Discovery-Warner, NBC Universal, Paramount and Sony under the umbrella of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The WGA Negotiating Committee began this process intent on making a fair deal, but the studios’ responses have been wholly insufficient given the existential crisis writers are facing.

“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. From their refusal to guarantee any level of weekly employment in episodic television, to the creation of a “day rate” in comedy variety, to their stonewalling on free work for screenwriters and on AI for all writers, they have closed the door on their labor force and opened the door to writing as an entirely freelance profession. No such deal could ever be contemplated by this membership.”

The AMPTP meanwhile released their own statement, saying that “A strike authorization vote has always been part of the WGA’s plan, announced before the parties even exchanged proposals. Its inevitable ratification should come as no surprise to anyone. Our goal is, and continues to be, to reach a fair and reasonable agreement An agreement is only possible if the Guild is committed to turning its focus to serious bargaining by engaging in full discussions of the issues with the companies and searching for reasonable compromises.”

Picketing in LA, NY

Picket lines formed outside the major studios in both LA and New York, with the WGA specifically picketing in LA outside the offices of Disney, Netflix, Amazon, Universal, Warner Bros., Paramount, CBS and Sony. At the same time, production has been halted on numerous TV shows and movies, with the production on late night talk shows, including The Tonight Show, Last Week Tonight, and The Late Show.

“We just want to make a livable wage and secure our own future,” said one WGA writer to the Globe on Monday. “The studios are making record profits. We just want a small part of that to continue making great shows.”

In a tweet, the WGA noted that “Writers are the backbone of this industry. Nothing gets made without us.”

However, another WGA writer, who wanted to be known as “Tim,” told the Globe, “I only joined the guild because I sort of had to. They say that it’s about economic survival and making a livable wage, but honestly, it’s just about money. And it’s not totally about streaming. There are just so many people trying to get into writing and that streaming brought a huge new group in. And with things tightening, the pond, which had expanded a lot with a lot more people coming in as a result, is now shrinking with the same number of people in there.”

“They’re trying to say that the vast majority of writers are behind the strike, and it’s true up to the point of some streaming compensation and not wanting AI in there. If the WGA really cared, they would have proposed a good middle ground for us, but they didn’t. Everyone is worried, but some of us are mad at the WGA not coming in on a fair compromise. So now, here I am, outside with a sign.”

Meanwhile, union relation experts explained that the strike could last for months as neither side is close to an agreements.

“We’re in uncharted waters, at least in one part” said Theresa Stevenson, an arbitrator in Michigan who has helped settled union disputes and strikes in the past, to the Globe o Tuesday. “AI really hasn’t come up before. Residuals, like what they want for streaming pay, has. The WGA fought over residuals multiple times in the past, like in the 1985 strike over VHS residuals. But, if the past is any indicator, then this will likely last for months. Neither side wants to back down, as it will cost studios hundreds of millions if they concede all to the unions, and the WGA faces having fewer members and a more unsure future if they give in.”

“You always need to be fair in negotiations and see both sides of the issue, but neither side wants to see the others point of view right now. Well, the AMPTP did and gave a better offer, but the WGA is remaining stubborn here. We have quite the journey ahead.”

As of Tuesday, no new deal has been proposed between the two sides.

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4 thoughts on “Writers Guild Of America Strike Begins

  1. The stuff that is coming out of Hollywood these days, written by these very same striking writers, is such garbage putting the brakes on Hollwood’s output is a good thing. No one is going to miss any of this stuff. The late-night talk shows have already declared they will go off the air during the strike and that alone is a victory for anyone that cares about their sanity.

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