Author: Ava Bell
On May 1, 2023, members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) voted to go on strike after there was no agreement made to improve a contract called the Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA) which protects the guilds film and television writers.
Making this writers strike the second longest and just five days shorter than the 1988 strike, WGA East and WGA West marched on the picket lines against The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) for 146 consecutive days before studios were forced to negotiate. Bringing a breath of relief for 11,500 members of this union, a tentative agreement was made on September 24, 2023 and was finalized after the Negotiating Committee, WGA West Board and WGA East Councils all voted in favor.
“It is the leverage generated by your strike, in concert with the extraordinary support of our union siblings, that finally brought the companies back to the table to make a deal.” said the WGA Negotiating Committee in an announcement about the agreement, “We can say, with great pride, that this deal is exceptional—with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership.”
This new deal gives the WGA fair pay and protections against artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, both of which being major points of negotiation for this contract.
According to the Summary of the 2023 WGA MBA, the minimum pay of writers will increase at a rate of 5% upon the contracts ratification, 4% in 2024 and 3.5% in 2025, considering this same contract will be negotiated again in May of 2026. While originally arguing for a minimum increase of 6%-5%-5% for the next three years and making the final contract less than originally wanted, the WGA beat the AMPTP’s original offer of a 4%-3%-2% increase.
In addition, this summary stated that “AI can’t write or rewrite literary material, and AI-generated material will not be considered source material under the MBA, meaning that AI-generated material can’t be used to undermine a writer’s credit or separated rights.”
The terms of this contract reflect a strong and persistent union who fights for what they want and what they believe is right. These writers were prepared to fight until they were given the terms that they think they deserve and that is exactly what they did.
When the AMPTP came back with their offers to the initial proposals, the WGA voted “no” and refused to work.
When Bob Iger, Chief Executive Officer of Disney, stated in an appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box that “there’s a level of expectation that they have that is just not realistic,” the WGA struck back harder.
This story is one of inspiration and one of great hope because while sibling unions such as the Directors Guild of America (DGA), The Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), have stood in solidarity, the odds were against the WGA. The producers hold the money, and therefore the producers hold the power. But much like David beat Goliath, the WGA beat the AMPTP, and now the writers can write with fair pay and protections.
Following the agreement, four late night talk shows including: ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” CBS’ “The Late Night With Stephen Colbert,” and NBC’s “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” said in a joint announcement on their podcast created in order to raise money for the writers out of work called “Strike Force Five,” that each of their shows would be returning to air on Monday, October 2, 2023. Similarly, HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” was set to return on Sunday, October 1, 2023.
The writing business is slowly but surely getting back up and running, but that doesn’t mean war with the AMPTP is over. SAG-AFTRA has been on strike since July 14, 2023 when the SAG-AFTRA TV/Theatrical Committee stated in an announcement that “SAG-AFTRA’s National Board convened this morning, July 13, and voted to issue a strike of the Producers–SAG-AFTRA TV/Theatrical Contracts of 2014, as amended by the 2017 and 2020 memoranda of agreement, effective July 14, at 12:01 a.m.”
SAG-AFTRA is fighting for similar changes in their contract. Among others, the similarities include an increase in minimums and protections against AI.
On October 2, 2023 SAG-AFTRA will meet with the AMPTP to resume negotiations. Until then and much like the WGA, they stand tall and they keep fighting with the support of their sibling unions behind them, because while one war is over, the other still roars on in the push for change.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons