TV And Movie Writers Strike Over 'Gig Economy' Conditions As Talks Break Down. What’s At Stake In The WGA Walkout


egotiations between the Writers Guild of America and film and TV studios and streamers broke down late Monday night, with leaders of the union now saying they will go on strike "effective 12:01 AM, Tuesday, May 2.”

Tweet reads: The Board of Directors of the @WGAwest and the Council of the @WGA east, acting on the authority granted to them by their membershps, have voted unanimously to call a strike, effective 12:01 a.m., Tuesday, May 2
(WGA via Twitter)

It is the first WGA strike in 15 years; the last work stoppage began in November of 2007 and lasted 100 days. If WGA pickets go up as planned on Tuesday, late-night television shows will likely go off the air immediately, and there almost certainly will not be a new episode of Saturday Night Live next weekend.

Just prior to that notice of an imminent strike, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers issued a statement saying the talks had ended.

“Negotiations between the AMPTP and the WGA concluded without an agreement today,” the statement said. “The AMPTP presented a comprehensive package proposal to the [WGA] last night which included generous increases in compensation for writers as well as improvements in streaming residuals.“

The AMPTP also indicated to the WGA that it is prepared to improve that offer, but was unwilling to do so because of the magnitude of other proposals still on the table that the guild continues to insist upon.

full statement from AMPTP

We want to hear from you

What went wrong

"The primary sticking points are 'mandatory staffing,' and 'duration of employment' — guild proposals that would require a company to staff a show with a certain number of writers for a specified period of time, whether needed or not,” the statement concluded.

On Monday, WGA leaders told members to be ready to picket Tuesday morning.

“We are still at the AMPTP in negotiations with our midnight contract deadline approaching quickly,” the guild told its members:

“If we don’t reach an agreement and a strike is called, picketing will begin tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon. As soon as we have definitive news, you’ll hear from us via email and on our website. We appreciate your patience and ongoing support.”

For more than a month, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have been in contract talks, negotiating largely over base-level pay and residual compensation.

On Sunday evening, when the WGA put its members on alert to be ready to picket, organizers said in an email:

“The greatest amount of leverage we collectively bring to strike action is the withdrawal of our labor. Picketing is a key tactic to demonstrate that we are all in this together and that until a strike is resolved, it’s not business as usual.”

What's next: WGA town halls

The WGA said its pickets will go up at 1 p.m. Tuesday at several Hollywood studios and streamers, including Paramount Pictures, Amazon Prime, the Walt Disney Co., and Netflix.

Here's what the guild told members Monday night:

Writers Guild members can hear a full report from the Negotiating Committee in Los Angeles at the Shrine Auditorium at 7:00 p.m. here on Wed. May 3 (RSVP here) and in New York at Cooper Union at 7:00 p.m. ET (RSVP here).

Members outside of Los Angeles and New York or who are otherwise unable to attend a meeting will receive information in the coming days to hear from leadership and receive information about additional ways to support the strike.

The issues: Writers

The WGA says that most of its nearly 12,000 members are making less than they once did and that after factoring for inflation, average WGA pay has actually dropped 14% over the last five years.

The union says about half of WGA members are earning scale — the barely minimum wages stipulated by the contract with the AMPTP. Ten years ago, it was only a third.

In addition to asking for higher minimum compensation for all forms of writing, the guild also wants its screenwriters to collect a better share of supplementary compensation like residuals for series and movies produced for streaming platforms.

(Writers who work for reality shows and broadcast, cable, and online news stations aren’t part of the current WGA contract.)

While a strike would hurt its members in the short term, the WGA says it has to improve its contract for the long-term financial and creative health of its screenwriters.

The guild says current contract terms failed to anticipate the explosive growth of streaming content (the last pact was negotiated during the pandemic, with little gains for writers).

Read the union's demands below:

A list of demands from the Writers Guild of America in its current contract talks with studios and producers.
A list of demands as agreed to by members of the Writers Guild of America in its current contract talks with studios and producers.

The issues: Film and TV executives

Executives at studios and streamers maintain that they are still recovering from pandemic losses and have spent billions of dollars creating and buying content for new streaming platforms, some of which are far from profitable.

While some streamers are thriving (Netflix recently reported $1.71 billion in quarterly operating income), the finances of others are unknown: Apple, the parent of Apple TV Plus, and Amazon, the parent of Amazon Studios, do not break out returns for their entertainment divisions.

The Walt Disney Co. is currently firing thousands of employees to save money, having lost close to $10 billion to date on its streaming platforms. Warner Bros. Discovery is making deep cuts because of its $50 billion of debt. (In their most recent quarterly earnings, however, Disney reported $1.28 billion in net income, while Warners said its studios made $768 million.)

A large billboard outlined against the sky shows Mickey mouse in a sequinned jacket welcoming people to the magic castle. The words say Join the celebration, and Disney 100, Disneyland
A billboard advertises Disneyland
(Mario Tama
Getty Images)

For Hollywood executives, the stakes are high: if the AMPTP deal for writers increases to pay and residual payments, their profit margins could shrink. Furthermore, other Hollywood unions would likely use any WGA gains as the template for their demands; contracts for the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America both expire in the coming weeks.

What happens now to TV shows and movies?

Ahead of the WGA contract’s expiration, studios and streamers stockpiled scripts so they would have content to produce if there were a strike. But there are still differences between platforms:

  • Late night talk shows:

Late-night talk shows rely on being topical, so scripts can be written just hours before taping. That means they would go off the air immediately, says the WGA; that list includes Late Night With Seth Meyers, Saturday Night Live, and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. 

  • Streamers:

Because companies like Netflix release series in multiple languages, their production schedules often run many months ahead of traditional TV networks, so streamers tend to have a bigger shelf of completed shows. So there may be less of a chance of a streaming series running out of episodes than a primetime network series.

  • Movies:

Movies have a fairly long lead time, so almost all of the movies due to come out through the end of the year already have finished filming. Movies that were slated to begin production soon and come out next year or later could be pushed back.

A sign being held by a a light skinned man in a white T shirt and black baseball hat says "on strike". Behind him a sign says 'The Tonight Show" in gold letters
Writers Guild of America members and supporters picket near the Tonight Show with Jay Leno theater at NBC studios in 2008
(David McNew
Getty Images)

What happens if other Hollywood guilds refuse to cross WGA picket lines?

If top unions tell their members to honor possible WGA pickets, most production — even for shows or films with completed scripts in hand — would shut down immediately.

  • On Sunday, the Screen Actors Guild told its members that if they honored WGA pickets and refused to work, they would be in violation of SAG’S deal with the AMPTP. 

     “If you are contracted to work on a project that continues production while the WGA is on strike, you are legally obligated to continue working by your personal services agreement and the ‘no strike’ clause in our collective bargaining agreements,” it said.

  • The Directors Guild of America has instructed its members to cross picket lines, saying that they are also contractually obligated to continue working regardless of any strikes. 
  • Teamsters Local 399, which represents thousands of below-the-line workers such as casting directors, location managers, couriers, animal handlers, and drivers, said they would not cross any WGA pickets if a strike happens. 

Meanwhile, WGA has made clear to its members that it will not allow any work related to writing at all, such as pitching an idea to a producer. The guild said screenwriters can work on spec scripts (stories they are writing on their own), but cannot work on a project with a producer or an actor. Talent agents cannot work on deals or bookwork for WGA members.

What's the history of WGA strikes?

The Writers Guild of America is Hollywood’s most militant guild, having called for more strikes than any other industry union. Since 1960, the WGA has been on strike six times, more than all the other guilds combined.

The work stoppages generally have been prompted by screenwriters’ attempts to be paid more for emerging distribution platforms. For example:

  • 1981 The WGA went on strike for three months, largely hinged on payments for the then-nascent pay television channels (1981 was the first year that Showtime and HBO both launched 24-hour schedules) and home video.
  • 1985 The same year that the very first Blockbuster Video store opened, the WGA called a strike, seeking a larger share of film and TV programming resold on videocassettes. But Guild members were divided over the negotiations, as internal dissent mounted, the WGA canceled the strike after two weeks, accepting what proved to be a disastrously tiny slice of home video revenues.
  • 1988 As international markets grew rapidly, the WGA went on strike for 22 weeks (the longest in guild history) over sales of TV shows to basic cable networks like TBS and foreign distributors.
  • 2007 The WGA held a 100-day walkout, in part tied to a dispute over content created for “new media,” which many people today would call the Internet.

What happened to TV and movies during the last writers' strike?

Within a month of the 2007-2008 strike starting in early November, a few TV series ran out of new episodes.

By mid-December, a little more than a month after the walkout began, almost all scripted TV production stopped.

Late-night shows, such as The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and Late Show With David Letterman had to broadcast reruns.

A variety of network hits, including Two and a Half Men, The Office, and Desperate Housewives went off the air.

What was the economic impact?

The Milken Institute estimated:

  • $2.1 billion in economic losses
  • Net loss of 37,700 jobs directly and indirectly tied to the entertainment industry.

Those 2007-08 losses worked out to about $20 million a day, or close to $30 million in today’s dollars. But the number of scripted series and streaming movies has grown exponentially since then.
The financial and job loss estimate includes not only lost pay for screenwriters, but also for people who work in production, and businesses that either cater to or depend on production: everything from costume and prop rental companies to caterers and equipment rental outfits.

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