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Writers Guild of America (WGA) Strike 2023: Insights and Overview

Understanding the WGA Strike 2023

After a gap of 15 years since their last strike for fair workplace rights, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) has once again taken a stand. This time, the focus is on negotiations for a renewed contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The year started with updated discussions, aiming to finalize the contract by May.

By April 2023, the AMPTP had not accepted the WGA's demands, generating significant buzz about a potential strike. This possibility became a reality as an overwhelming 98% of the WGA members voted in favor of a strike. The strike officially began on May 2, 2023, with around 11,500 WGA members participating across Los Angeles, New York, and other cities. As of now, the strike has persisted for nearly 100 days.

Best WGA signs
Writers protest outside Netflix - Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Understanding the Writers Guild of America

The Writers Guild of America serves as a labor union representing writers in various media forms, including film, television, and new media. With a membership exceeding 11,500, the union's primary role is to safeguard writers' rights, negotiate equitable contracts, and provide valuable benefits.

For additional details, you can visit the official WGA website by clicking this link.

Why is the WGA on Strike?

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Their Battle for Fair Compensation and Creative Autonomy

Throughout their history, the Writers Guild of America has experienced eight strikes since the 1950s. The most recent was in 2007-2008, lasting 100 days, and sought to secure writers' rights amidst the burgeoning digital entertainment era. Fast forward fifteen years, and a new wave of contract renewal and negotiation emerges, propelled by rising inflation, cost of living, and the surge of on-demand streaming services. At the core of their current fight is the call for a fresh contract that adequately addresses these challenges.

At its essence, the WGA's central objective is to ensure writers receive a livable wage for their invaluable contributions.

Delving deeper into the specifics, the demands put forth by the WGA reflect the evolving landscape of the entertainment industry and the disparities that have arisen.

Before streaming platforms took precedence, writers earned residuals when their shows were rerun on television.

Writers Guild of America signs
A protester outside Paramount Studios in Los Angeles displays a sign that makes allusions to the TV series Grey's Anatomy, Abbott Elementary, and Succession. - Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images

What are Residuals?

In the context of the entertainment industry, residuals refer to the additional payments made to writers, actors, directors, and other creative professionals for the continued use of their work after its initial release. This is particularly relevant in Hollywood and the television industry, where movies, TV shows, and other media are distributed through various channels over time.

Residuals are typically triggered when the work is reused or distributed in various ways, such as through reruns, syndication, streaming services, home video sales, and international distribution. These payments are intended to compensate the creators for the ongoing commercial exploitation of their work. Residuals are governed by agreements between industry guilds (like the Writers Guild of America) and production studios.

WGA signs at the strike
On the left, a protest sign is displayed outside the Netflix headquarters in Hollywood. On the right, writer K.C. Scott participates in picketing outside Amazon Studios in Culver City, California. - Mandalit del Barco/NPR

How Writers Work: Before and After Streaming Platforms

The process involved assembling a writer's room to craft an entire season over ten months, allowing writers to engage in the creative process and collaborate closely with actors. However, the advent of streaming brought forth streamlined structures, diminished creative autonomy, and limited opportunities for growth. The emergence of technologies like ChatGPT and the threat of AI replacing writers further compounds the challenges faced by writers in the New Media landscape.

So, what exactly is the WGA fighting for? One key demand revolves around fair streaming residuals. As cable TV and movie theater attendance wane in favor of streaming, the lack of transparency and access to consumption data leaves writers' pay subject to industry decisions, rather than reflecting their work's true value. The union advocates for just compensation for content reruns on these platforms.

Moreover, the WGA seeks new pension plans and extended span protections due to shortened writing times demanded by studios. The elimination of "mini-rooms," where underpaid writers work under constrained conditions, is another pressing issue. The push for consistent employment, 10-12 member writer rooms, and ten consecutive weeks of work counters the uncertainties writers face.

Negotiations between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) took a contentious turn when the union demanded mandatory staffing and minimum employment periods.

In addition to addressing industry dynamics, the WGA champions a rise in minimum wages across all entertainment categories and endeavors to ensure Artificial Intelligence's role is balanced and non-threatening to writers' roles.

In essence, the WGA's fight encapsulates the struggle for equitable compensation and the preservation of creative integrity within an evolving entertainment landscape.

Writers protest outside of Netflix
Writer protest outside Netflix - Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

SAG-AFTRA Joins the WGA Strike as Contract Talks Fail

In response to failed contract negotiations on July 30th, 2023, the SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) has officially joined the ongoing strike. Over 160,000 members have united in this action, aligning their demands with those of the WGA. These demands encompass enhanced compensation for minimum wage and residuals, improvements to health and pension plans, and addressing the usage of AI.

This joint strike marks a significant event, with both unions coming together to advocate for the rights and well-being of actors and writers. Remarkably, it's been more than two decades since SAG-AFTRA last embarked on a strike. With both organizations united in this effort, the production landscape across the United States has effectively ground to a halt.

As a sign of potential progress, the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) has scheduled a renegotiation meeting with the WGA for August 4th, starting a new chapter in negotiations.

For an insightful perspective on the reasons behind this strike, take a moment to watch the video featuring professional writers shedding light on their motivations for participating.

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