The Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike Tuesday after the Writers Guild of America East (WGAE), Writers Guild of America West (WGAW) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) failed to resolve labor contract negotiations Monday night. This is the first time the WGA has picketed since 2008 — but this time around, they are supported by solidarity from at least six other film and television unions.
On Wednesday, a meeting at the Shrine Auditorium saw unprecedented support, with attendance including the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), Teamsters, the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), Directors Guild of America (DGA) and the Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). The supporting guilds spoke to WGA members, according to Michele Mulroney, the vice president of the WGAW, to encourage and inspire the packed room of people interwoven through the industry.
“Last night you felt this really incredible feeling of interunion solidarity and a recognition of the moment that we’re in and how things must change,” Mulroney said.
The Writers Guild’s main asks are to codify and protect the writers room; ensure there are pathways for writers to grow in their careers and maintain the integrity of their creative work; and financially guarantee that writers are able to make a living in their profession.
During this meeting it was discussed how the WGA approached negotiations and how the WGA attempted to reach a deal.
Bill Wolkoff, a writer, producer and member of the Writers Guild, took away from the meeting at the Shrine that “[AMPTP] did not bargain in good faith. The WGA’s leadership is very transparent and released the term sheet in the negotiations, all of our proposals and all of their responses. Anybody who looks at that can see that they never intended to make a deal with us. All of our cornerstone proposals, they never once countered for all of the months that they were in negotiation. They never once countered.”
“If [AMPTP] insists on not engaging with us, they’re going to find, fairly soon, that there won’t be any writers left, because writers can’t afford to do this,” said Michael Schur, a WGA member who is a part of the Negotiating Committee.
“Writers are facing an existential crisis,” said Wolkoff. “Through the streaming model, [companies] have found loopholes in which they pay writers less and diminish the writer’s presence in the production process to the point where it’s hard to have a career as a writer.”
“Writer pay and working conditions have been suppressed and eroded to an unacceptable level,” says Mulroney. “It makes it almost impossible for [writers] to afford to live in the cities where they need to work — Los Angeles and New York.”
In the streaming era, television seasons have shrunk from approximately 22 episodes a season to about eight or ten, causing a reduction in overall pay. Furthermore, studios have made it more difficult for writers to get paid for time spent on-set. This puts more of a burden on showrunners, and also makes it difficult for writers to gain the production experience necessary to advance in their careers. These changes are just two of many “erosions” the writers have seen over the past decade and a half.
“It’s kind of like a death by a thousand cuts situation,” said Kristina Woo, a WGA captain from Friday’s Paramount picket line.
The 2007-2008 strike lasted for 14 weeks. Current protesters anticipate and are preparing for a long strike that may include other unions on the picket line. SAG and DGA contracts are set to expire on June 30 of this year and IATSE contracts begin negotiation early next year.
“We’re in this fight until it’s over. I don’t know how long it’s going to be. That is up to the studios and the companies,” Wolkoff said.
Across the 10 West Coast locations, some protests were better attended than others. Sam Richardson, an actor, screenwriter and television writer of both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA guilds, attended the CBS TV City picket line Thursday: “On Instagram, you see everybody in swarms. And … I didn’t see anybody here. So I was like, let me come and represent this [location],” he said.
The film industry workers’ unions are some of the largest in the country. Some supporters believe this strike could make a nation-wide impact.
Andria Wilson-Mirza came out with Women in Film LA to the Paramount picket line and explained, “Since the 2007-2008 strike, so many people have come to understand the power of their own voice and their collective action. It really feels like this could be that watershed moment for our generation.”
A primary concern with this strike is whether or not momentum can carry through potentially drawn-out negotiations. But the consequences of not carrying it out are severe, explains John Cochran, a television writer at CBS.
“Even though it’s very disruptive to the industry now to be having this sort of strike, it’s going to be way more disruptive to the industry if these changes aren’t made now in the future,” Cochran said.
The picket lines will be running from Monday to Friday during working hours, in front of the major television and film studios.
Sara Werner, a freelance director and supporter of the strike, explains that the atmosphere of the picket lines are positive.
“Everyone’s on the same page,” she said. “I think everyone’s in it for the long haul and supporting one another and coming in shifts, coming in between work, coming in between, well, survival jobs.”