Author: Ava Bell
It has been over 130 days since the Writers Guild of America (WGA) put down their pencils and picked up their strike signs. Headed straight for the picket lines, the labor union consisting of 11,500 film and television writers across the United States began their strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) on May 2, 2023 after there was no agreement made to improve the contract that covers the benefits, rights and protections of the writers.
This contract, the Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA), is renegotiated every three years between the AMPTP, WGA East and WGA West, after the Guild has consulted its members for their input. While currently at a stand still, the previous MBA was effective from May 2, 2020 until May 1, 2023. According to the Strike Authorization Vote Results published by the WGA on April 17, 2023, 97.85% of voting members said “yes” to striking if needed.
On May 1, 2023 a joint announcement from the WGA Negotiating Committee stated that “We have not reached an agreement with the studios and streamers. We will be on strike after the contract expires at midnight.” Since then, thousands of writers have walked up and down picket lines chanting for a change in the entertainment industry. While union members are required to participate in the strike, writers who are not yet in the union join in solidarity and support. The Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) have been influenced and voted to begin their own strike against the AMPTP in order to fight for fair pay and protection against AI technology. Other unions, such as the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) have put out statements saying, “we support them in their efforts to achieve a fair and reasonable agreement for their members,” and “IATSE supports the Writers Guild of America West and the Writers Guild of America East in their collective fight to win a fair contract from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on behalf of the talented workers they represent.”
“Just one note, can you make the studio execs more likable?”, Photo credit: JW Hendricks
So, what exactly is the WGA fighting for?
According to the 2023 Patterns of Demand, a statement of general MBA objectives, 98.4% of WGA members voted in favor to fight for a multitude of changes, including the following:
- An increase and standardization in minimum compensation for all writers throughout pre- production, production and post-production no matter if the material is released theatrically or through streaming
- Addressing mini-rooms- groups of writers who produce content before a production is given permission to go ahead, otherwise known as being green-lit
- An increase in residuals – the compensation for the reusing of material
- An increase in contributions to the Pension Plan and Health Fund
- A required weekly payment for feature contracts
- Regulation of both employment contracts and material produced using Artificial Intelligence (AI) or other similar technology
- Implementation of measures that protect against harassment and discrimination
- The promotion of equal pay
Mainly, the WGA is in negotiations for fair pay in the era of streaming and protections against technology, such as AI, that threatens the stability of their jobs. Companies such as Netflix, Disney, Apple, Discovery-Warner, Amazon, Paramount, Sony and NBC Universal are all under the AMPTP and, therefore, directly involved in these negotiations.
“Here is what all writers know: the companies have broken this business,” said the WGA negotiating committee in their strike announcement. “They have taken so much from the very people, the writers, who have made them wealthy. But what they can not take from us is each other, our solidarity, our mutual commitment to save ourselves and this profession that we love.”
In the past few months, many stories have been shared and highlighted regarding the neglect and unfair pay that has come from the AMPTP. One of the most notable stories is of Alex O’Keefe, one of the seven writers for FX’s hit show “The Bear.” According to The New Yorker, the 28 year-old lived in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York where he wrote via Zoom for nine weeks with no heat.
O’Keefe told The New Yorker that he remembered an Executive Producer from the show apologizing to him for the way the writers room was run. She said, “I’m so sorry that this was your first writer’s room experience, because it’s not usually like this. It shouldn’t be like this.”
O’Keefe WGA strike, Photo credit: JW Hendricks
Along with a multitude of other awards and nominations, “The Bear” was nominated for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes earlier this year. It also received a nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series at the Prime-Time Emmy Awards. In March of 2023, “The Bear” won Best Comedy Series at the Writers Guild of America Awards. O’Keefe stated on Twitter that he “went to the @WGAWest awards with a bow tie bought on credit, $6 in my bank account.”
It is no secret that “The Bear” has been a huge success. When one of the writers, one of the people who craft the show and give it life is in debt because he is significantly underpaid, people are forced to take a look at what is going wrong.
Large corporate companies taking advantage of the people who work under them is not a new concept. The difference with this story, as compared to some others, is that the writers are taking action. They are standing up for what they believe in; they are trying to make a change.
While people wish the AMPTP and the WGA would come to a consensus, the outcome of this strike is unpredictable. But, it’s hope that keeps them going. In this day and age it is important to do what you feel is right.
Photo credit: TaurusEmerald