The Writers Guild Of America’s Strike: An Overview

Photo Courtesy of @JW_Hendricks on Twitter

Every three years, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) negotiates a contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) to address minimum pay for projects, health insurance, safety and more. 

The WGA is a labor union that represents the writers of scripted series, features, news programs and other content. The WGA negotiates and administers contracts to protect the rights of its members, both creatively and economically. They provide pension and health coverage to writers and collect, monitor and distribute their residuals, which is the payment from reusing movies, television and digital media programs. 

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers “represents Hollywood studios such as Paramount Pictures and NBCUniversal, network television companies like ABC and FOX and, newly, streaming services like Amazon.” 

Negotiations started on March 20 with the WGA proposing new terms, including how feature film writers are paid, how many writers can work on TV shows and how long they are staffed, the lack of minimums for comedy and variety shows on streaming, and regulating AI for creating new material. Most of these proposals were rejected or countered with very different propositions. 

The WGA’s proposals this year included gaining about $429 million per year for writers, and the AMPTP offered about $86 million per year, including 48% of it from minimums increase. Over the last 10 years, the “median weekly writer-producer pay has declined 4 percent. Adjusting for inflation, the decline is 23 percent.” A standstill in negotiations on May 1 led to the WGA calling for a strike, which started on May 2, citing that the strike “is about a systemic problem,” not just issues with pay, although that was the largest concern.  

Writers work job-to-job and the minimum pay is guaranteed by the WGA, but they have to account for other expenses. Many writers have a lawyer, agent and manager who can take up to 25 percent of the pay, and the minimum is pre-tax, so they still owe taxes on it. To be a part of the union, they must pay 1.5% of their pay for dues, and the freelance nature of their jobs requires them to save money because of the uncertainty of when they will find another job. 

Traditional TV show jobs used to last from six months to a year, and a successful show could have multiple seasons, which would give writers a steady job for multiple years. Now, with the rise of streaming services, the shows are typically shorter, shows are less consistently renewed, and streaming services aren’t transparent about how residual pay works and often use fewer writers. Streaming services typically want shows with fewer episodes and want to gather writers to write plot points or scripts prior to when production officially starts or the show being picked up in mini-rooms. This has created issues with proper compensation and the unpredictability of the job length in mini-rooms. 

The strike has currently halted many of the productions for upcoming series and new seasons with writers, actors, producers and more striking with the WGA. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • The 50th Daytime Emmy Awards, originally scheduled for June 16, now postponed
  • The Penguin, a spin-off show from The Batman 
  • HBO Max’s Pretty Little Liars: Summer School, unclear whether it was a one-day or ongoing shut down
  • Daredevil: Born Again, an upcoming Marvel revival on Disney+
  • Stranger Things, the fifth season production has been delayed
  • Cobra Kai, the writers’ room for the sixth season was shut down
  • Yellowjackets, the writers’ room for the third season was shut down
  • Abbott Elementary, the writers’ room for the third season was also shut down 

To support the Writers Guild of America, you can join pickets around the country in front of various media companies and streaming companies. Additionally, you can donate to support guild members accessing loans or grants through strike funds and through the WGA West Good and Welfare Emergency Assistance Fund, which helps provide emergency financial assistance. You can also use social media as a tool to show your support: the WGA has provided multiple graphics, questions and prompts you can post on social media. 

There is no current prediction on when the strike will end, only possible indicators from previous WGA strikes. The last time they striked was in November of 2007, and in February of 2008, the union reached a deal with the AMPTP. Prior to that, they held a strike in 1988 for 153 days over a similar topic of residuals.