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Unionized film and television writers are on strike Tuesday after a midnight deadline came without a deal with executives of the major producers and streaming giants in Hollywood.
The negotiating committee representing both the East and West Coast branches of the Writers Guild of America said in a statement that the strike would be in effect as of 12:01 am and that members — who voted last month to authorize a strike if one became necessary — would be on the picket line beginning Tuesday afternoon in both Los Angeles and New York.
“Though we negotiated intent on making a fair deal — and though your strike vote gave us the leverage to make some gains — the studios’ responses to our proposals have been wholly insufficient, given the existential crisis writers are facing,” the WGA said in a statement. “The companies’ behavior has created a gig economy inside a union workforce, and their immovable stance in this negotiation has betrayed a commitment to further devaluing the profession of writing.”
At issue are pay scales, residual fees, and base employment guarantees from producers for writers working in the era of online streaming and the new distribution models created by giants like Disney, Netflix, Apple, Amazon, NBC Universal, Paramount, Sony, and Discover-Warner — some of the largest and most profitable companies in the entertainment industry — under the umbrella of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).
“If they could do without us, they would,” said television writer David Slack, in support of the union. “If they could break us, they would. They can’t. They won’t.”
According to the Los Angeles Times:
Although streaming has been a boon for television, it has upended how writers are compensated. Writers say that they work longer hours for less pay and that they no longer can rely on a steady stream of residual income they used to get in the days of broadcast TV, when successful shows lived on for years in syndicated reruns or the once-lucrative home video market.
The median weekly pay for writer-producers declined 23% over the last decade when adjusting for inflation, according to a WGA survey. When accounting for inflation, screenwriter pay declined 14% in the last five years, the report said.
The WGA said because of the producers’ unwillingness to budge on key demands, “We must now exert the maximum leverage possible to get a fair contract by withholding our labor.”
David Goodman, co-chair of the negotiating committee, told the LA Times that the need for a strike became increasingly evident over recent days of bargaining.
“It was really very clear that the companies were unwilling to move on many of the very important issues we raised,” Goodman said. “They kept wanting us to give up things that we just wanted to talk about and so as a result, we realized that they didn’t want to make a deal.”
The union said the exploitation they suffer as writers is clear to see, but that it will not be tolerated any longer by an industry that disregards the key role they play in creating the shows and movies that audiences pay to enjoy.
“Here is what all writers know: the companies have broken this business,” the WGA committee said. “They have taken so much from the very people, the writers, who have made them wealthy. But what they cannot take from us is each other, our solidarity, our mutual commitment to save ourselves and this profession that we love.”
“We had hoped to do this through reasonable conversation,” the statement continued. “Now we will do it through struggle. For the sake of our present and our future, we have been given no other choice.”
This story was first published at Common Dreams.
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