Hollywood Writers Authorize Strike Against Studios
Writers for the U.S. film and television industries have given their unions the green light to declare a strike if they can’t reach a satisfactory deal on a new contract with the major studios.
On Monday the two affiliated unions, the Writers Guild of America West and the Writers Guild of America East, released the results of a strike authorization vote held among their members amid contract talks. Nearly 98% voted in favor of authorizing a work stoppage, and nearly 80% of eligible members participated in the vote — figures that the unions said were record highs.
The vote does not guarantee screenwriters will walk off the job, but it empowers union leaders to call a strike if they don’t make sufficient headway at the bargaining table. It would be the first strike by Hollywood writers since they were off the job for 100 days in 2007 and 2008.
“Our membership has spoken,” the unions’ negotiating committee said in an email to members. “You have expressed your collective strength, solidarity, and the demand for meaningful change in overwhelming numbers. Armed with this demonstration of unity and resolve, we will continue to work at the negotiating table to achieve a fair contract for all writers.”
The unions are negotiating a new three-year deal known as the minimum basic agreement, which sets pay, benefits and protections for the industry’s writers. The big studios, including Amazon, Apple, Disney, NBCUniversal and Netflix, bargain the agreement collectively as the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The contract covers more than 11,000 workers.
This year’s negotiations were expected to be contentious as writers demand a bigger piece of the streaming pie. Much like the film production workers who threatened to strike in 2021, screenwriters say the studios have used the shift toward streaming as an opportunity to push down wages for those who make the content.
According to the unions, a growing share of writers, editors and showrunners have been receiving the industry’s minimum pay under the contract. For instance, a decade ago 10% of co-producers were working at the minimum rate, and now 59% are. The unions say median pay for writers and producers has dropped 4% over those years, not counting for inflation.
At the same time, the unions say streaming has led to fewer episodes per season and longer production times for each episode in a series — a dynamic that has squeezed writers since they are paid per episode.
“The companies have leveraged the streaming transition to underpay writers, creating more precarious, lower-paid models for writers’ work,” the WGAW and WGAE said in a recent memo. (HuffPost employees are represented by the WGAE.)
In their pattern of demands, the writers also said they want to boost what are known in the industry as “residuals” — pay for the reuse of their work, such as with television reruns or feature film DVDs.
The AMPTP said ahead of talks that it would approach the contract with “the long-term health and stability of the industry” in mind. “The goal is to keep production active so that all of us can continue working and continue to deliver to consumers the best entertainment product available in the world,” the group said in a statement.
The current contract is set to expire on May 1. If the two sides fail to reach a deal or extend the current one by then, union leaders could declare a strike.
In the event of a work stoppage, writers would be expected to withhold their work from any studio under the lapsed contract. A prolonged strike could stop production of scripted television shows and eventually impact film production as well.