Writers Guild Calls First Strike in 15 Years | The Hollywood Reporter









SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter | Katie Kilkenny
May 1, 2023

Picketing by Hollywood scribes is slated to begin at 1 p.m. PT in Los Angeles at production sites across the city, with simultaneous demonstrations occurring in New York.

For the first time in over 15 years, Hollywood’s writers are going out on strike.

The Writers Guild of America announced that a work stoppage will begin Tuesday afternoon after negotiations with the labor group representing studios and streamers faltered on Monday night. In Los Angeles, members will begin picketing at 1 p.m. PT on Tuesday at locations including Amazon/Culver Studios, CBS Radford and CBS Television City, Disney’s Burbank headquarters, Netflix’s Hollywood plant and the Fox, Sony, Paramount, Warner Bros. and Universal studio lots in Los Angeles. In New York, picketing will occur at Peacock’s Newfront at Center415 at 1 p.m. ET and Netflix’s Manhattan headquarters at 2:30 p.m. ET.

In a statement on Wednesday night, the WGA said that its 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 union alleged that studios and streamers would not agree to any guaranteed of number of weeks of employment for television writers in the talks, that they proposed creating a “day rate” for comedy-variety writers (essentially creating a day-player category for these writers) and that they “stonewall[ed]” on proposals over minimizing work with no pay and proposals to regulate AI writing, like ChatGPT, in WGA-covered work.

Earlier in the night, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios and streamers in collective bargaining, said in a statement that the negotiations “concluded without an agreement.” In its explanation, the AMPTP said it offered a “comprehensive package proposal” with boosts to compensation and streaming residuals, but sticking points that remained included the guild’s proposals around minimum writing staff sizes and minimum amount of time for employment.

Still, the AMPTP stated that it is “willing to engage in discussions with the WGA in an effort to break this logjam.” Its companies, it added, “remain united in their desire to reach a deal that is mutually beneficial to writers and the health and longevity of the industry, and to avoid hardship to the thousands of employees who depend upon the industry for their livelihoods.”

The two parties have not yet scheduled a future date to return to the bargaining table.

The decision will have an immediate impact on late night shows, which rely on up-to-the-minute writing from WGA members on the latest news developments. If a strike goes on for a longer period of time, the WGA has warned that it could set back the network TV season, as scribes for fall premieres tend to start work in May or June.

When reached on Monday night, many WGA members pointed to the guild’s detailed proposals for companies in the 2023 negotiations, which the WGA shared with members that night (the document also includes the AMPTP’s alleged responses). One showrunner’s reply to those proposals: The studios and streamers “will regret not being serious, I’m afraid. They tried to pretend but in the end they signaled to the other guilds that they are not willing to look at anything that actually deals with how the business has changed.” One writer added that they “really did a double take at [the AMPTP’s] complete unwillingness to negotiate on AI. They just want to computer-generate story and have maybe one writer punch it up [and] cut us out of the process.”

Another writer, a 20-year WGA television writing veteran, proved to be something of a strike skeptic, telling THR, “All these rich showrunners have riled up the base, led us into battle and put the fate of working middle-class writers, which this is all supposed to be about, on the line. I just hope to God they have a plan now that it’s real.”

On the company side, one executive responded to the proposals document by calling the guild’s proposal on minimum hiring requirements “crazy.” The executive continued, “That [decision] should be up to the showrunners,” who are also represented by the WGA. Another studio source said they were “not surprised” by the strike: “There has been some good forward motion on both sides but not in the areas that matter most to the writers,” including mini-rooms, guaranteed TV staff size and residuals.

In the week preceding the expiration of its contract, the WGA issued some strict strike rules to members: no writing, revising, pitching or negotiating with companies that are members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which is at the bargaining table with writers. The WGA instructed its members to report any peers that may be in violation of these rules to face union discipline and to tell any companies with “spec” scripts in their possession to return and delete them. The WGA is also telling members that they must picket at assigned locations unless they have a “valid medical excuse,” personal issue or emergency.

This development marks the culmination of months of industry speculation that the writers would strike once their current contract ended on May 1. Hampered in their 2020 round of negotiations over a three-year contract due to the then-recent onset of COVID-19, and emboldened by the success of their campaign against agency packaging practices, the thinking went, the writers were sure to mount a credible strike threat in 2023 as they sought major pay boosts in the streaming age. Writers did little to dispel these rumors, with leaders noting that the guild has a reputation for taking action “when necessary” and with nearly 98 percent of members authorizing a strike about two weeks before the end of their contract. (The WGA has long relied on its reputation as a union willing to walk to gain leverage in its negotiations with producers.)

Negotiations for the agreement began March 20 and were cut off by 8 p.m. PT on Monday. The writers had been advocating for great compensation in the streaming era, through higher wage floors, regulation of mini-rooms and greater residuals. Meanwhile, studios and streamers — who have been feeling pressure to cut costs after Wall Street turned on unprofitable streaming operations in 2022 and amid an uncertain economic climate — were seeking to rein in their spending on labor.

The writers have been led in their negotiations by WGA West assistant executive director Ellen Stutzman, who stepped up to the plate after the western branch of the union’s executive director, David Young, went on medical leave on Feb. 28. Carol Lombardini, the AMPTP’s chief negotiator since 2009, has been leading the talks for producers.

Now, it remains to be seen when the two parties will go back to the bargaining table and how long the strike could stretch on until they reach an agreement. The WGA’s last work stoppage, in 2007-08, lasted 100 days, while its strike in 1988 lasted 153 days, and its 1985 strike took 14 days.

In a statement on Tuesday, L.A. mayor Karen Bass exhorted “all sides to come together around an agreement that protects our signature industry and the families it supports.” She said, “Los Angeles relies on a strong entertainment industry that is the envy of the world while putting Angelenos to work in good, middle class jobs.”

California governor Gavin Newsom also weighed in on Tuesday, saying he was “very worried” about the strike. “We’re not unfamiliar with labor issues, and when called in by both sides, we’ll intervene to the extent that both sides are willing and interested in that.” He added, “It has profound consequences, direct and indirect: Every single one of us will be impacted by this.”

Lesley Goldberg contributed reporting.