The Writers Guild Strike Authorization Vote

The Los Angeles-based creative community is currently deeply concerned about the potential of a Writer’s Guild Strike. Now that the Writers Guild of America (WGA) has asked its members to give the WGA negotiating committee the power to strike if need be, those concerns have grown.

The truth is, a strong “yes” vote by the Guild membership actually decreases the chance that the Guild will have to strike. A weak show of force depletes the Guild’s bargaining power. Consequently, the studios (as represented by their bargaining arm, the AMPTP) have been spreading misinformation about the strike authorization vote.

We, the co-authors of this article, wanted to help set the record straight.

5 Myths and 5 Realities regarding the WGA Strike Authorization Vote and the WGA Contract Negotiation

Myth #1:

WGA members who vote YES for a strike authorization are voting to actually strike.

Reality:

A YES for strike authorization only gives the WGA membership the ability to strike if they have to. A “yes” vote empowers our negotiation team with necessary leverage in the negotiations.  It does not mean a strike.

If the authorization passes, the WGAW Board and WGAE Council will have the ability to call a strike, but it still must vote to do that.  And that won’t happen unless all attempts to reach an agreement are exhausted. 

Four times in the past, the WGA membership voted to authorize a strike, without the Guild ultimately having to strike.   In 1963, 1966, 1970, and 1977.  In all those situations, a strong “yes” vote from our members meant that the Guild had the leverage in the negotiations to protect the membership and the creative community at large. In each instance we achieved our goals without a strike. 

Myth #2:

The major networks and studios’ profit margins have declined over the last few years.  Consequently, writers are lucky to get what they are being offered.

Reality:

The Studios’ profits have doubled in the last ten years to $51 billion. Simultaneously, the average earnings of writer-producers has decreased 23%.

The six major entertainment corporations made a combined operating profit of $51 billion in 2016.  This is twice as large of a profit as they made in 2006. 

http://www.wga.org/members/membership-information/contract-2017/bulletin/state-of-the-industry-2

During the same period of time, the average income of writer-producers has gone down 23%, while their expected time commitment has increased.  A recent article in Deadline breaks the loss in income and increased time commitment for writers in TV, and the continued decline in residuals for both TV and feature writers. 

The studios want more of our time for less money. We’ve helped double their profits and changed the game in terms of how stories are created and delivered, and they want everyone to ignore that.

Myth #3:

“Pattern Bargaining” is compulsory for unions in our industry. 

Reality:

Different unions have different needs, and have always bargained separately. “Pattern Bargaining” is a form of economic injustice.

For the past 30 years there has been steadfast studio pursuance to force “pattern bargaining” onto the entirety of the industry, to the detriment of all involved except the studios. Even worse it has created a perception of precedence, which affects the future of the industry.

The AMPTP, in turn, exploits this perception of precedence in order to pressure one union into accepting a deal made separately with an entirely different union.

The problem with this is that each guild has a different structure and its memberships have different modes of output. Consequently each guild has vastly different needs that necessitate different negotiable points from the AMPTP. As such any attempt to pressure any union into the practice of “pattern bargaining” – to accept the status quo for a different guild with entirely different requirements – is a hallmark of economic injustice and is something Hollywood unions (or guilds) must resist.

Myth #4:

Strikes don't help the WGA membership.

Reality:

Most of the benefits WGA membership afforded today are a direct result of calling for a strike or striking.  

  • The 2008 strike gave the Guild jurisdiction over scripted material in new media (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, YouTube Red).  In 2008, WGA members held no jobs on these platforms.  Today, 500 WGA writers are employed by these mediums.  New Media represents 15% of the WGA's current TV employment, and is projected to rise to 50% or more in the next ten years alone. 
  • The 2008 strike gave WGA writers expanded residuals for new media, which accounts for revenue of $15 million last year alone.
  • Without the threat of a strike in 1977, the WGA would not have earned fixed residuals in television beyond the tenth run. 
  • Without the threat of a strike in 1973 writers would not have gotten home video and pay TV residuals, and would not have their health and pension plans. 
  • Without the strike in 1960, writers would not earn feature film residuals or have our health and pension plan.

Myth #5:

It’s too early in the negotiation process to call for a strike authorization.

Reality:

This is a typical point during negotiations to call for such a vote.

Most successful unions ask for a strike authorization early on in the process, sometimes before they even start bargaining.  It says to management that the workers are united behind their leadership.  This is an essential strategy to maximize their leverage at the bargaining table. 

At this point, the WGAW Board, WGAE Council and WGA Negotiating Committee have all voted unanimously to ask the membership for a strike authorization vote.  These representatives have diverse opinions and perspectives.  But all of them believe this vote is essential to the future of our profession.  The WGA chose these leaders to represent them, the WGA should hear them out, and stand behind them.  

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, we ask that the WGA - and others in our community - be aware that myths and misinformation rarely enter the narrative by accident.  

The AMPTP is a sophisticated organization with vast resources.  It retains consulting firms specializing in "anti-strike" campaigns (both public and whisper) which have been known to advance misleading information with the intent that it be embraced by the public -- and even WGA members.

Throughout this process, we ask this community not take any news or rumors seriously, unless you’ve seen it verified on WGA letterhead.  

With all this in mind, we ask WGA members to:

1. Attend Guild meetings to ask questions and get more information.

2. Discuss your concerns with your WGA representatives and Board members.

3. Read WGA announcements.

4. Join the Writers Action Group (WAG) - a group largely made up of WGA writers with backgrounds in politics. If you have interest, please email our membership coordinator, pierce@wag.buzz.  

And:

5. Vote YES in support of the Strike Authorization.

In solidarity:

Gregg Hurwitz

Michael Sardo

Arlene Sarner

Rachel Feldman

Len Uhley

Jack Kenny

Chip Proser

Ivan Menchell

Jan Oxenberg

Natasha Gray

Pierce Gardner

Linda Burstyn

Rob Kutner

JT Allen

Roger Wolfson

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