As of May 2, the Writers’ Guild of America is on strike after weeks of stalled negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers led to a strike authorization vote of over 97%. The AMPTP, which includes companies like Netflix, Disney and Warner, returned with marginal responses to the WGA’s pattern of demands. These demands include: increased residuals from streamers that make massive revenue but insist on paying writers less money for their past work; regulating Artificial Intelligence which can only serve as a tool and not a replacement for writers; enacting measures to combat discrimination and harassment as well as pay equity; and ending increasingly fraught working conditions for writers.
While the AMPTP has contended that they offered “a comprehensive package proposal to the guild,” most proposals for better working conditions were rejected. In response to the demand for adequate compensation for writing a feature, the AMPTP responded by saying it would provide opportunities to educate executives regarding the hardships of free work. It is an insult to the writers who spend their time ideating the television shows, films, and podcasts that go on to be cultural touchstones, preservations of history, and moments shared in homes across the globe.
The AMPTP is a collective that consists of the largest, most powerful players within the television and film industry, including companies like Disney—which is in the midst of company-wide layoffs across various sectors—Netflix, Universal, WarnerBros, Paramount and Sony. David Zaslav, the president of Warner Bros Television, was paid a salary of $39.3 million dollars in 2022, which paled in comparison to his 2021 pay of $246 million dollars. This exorbitant rate starkly contrasts the compensation for writers and support staff who fight housing insecurity with barbed wits and dwindling residuals. The WGA proposals would increase salaries by 5-6%, while the AMPTP is only offering 2-4%.
The WGA strike follows in the same tradition of the many historic movements that the people have led – a movement by and for workers that have been impacted by increasingly unfair working conditions. Television shows are typically written by a team of writers coming together to create and execute a story in a workplace environment called a “writers’ room.” These rooms are meant to be equivalent to full time employment for a year in a 9-5 office job. Writers in the past often worked in one room a year and were able to live off of that salary while looking for their next job. The field is predicated on a semi-freelance structure where there can be long periods of unemployment between rooms. Room lengths and residuals were meant to bridge those gaps. A traditional writers’ room has gone from 20+ weeks of employment with up to 30 writers to sometimes as short as one week long and as small as two person “mini-rooms.” These mini-rooms rob writers of the ability to make a living wage and have consistent job security.
In many cases, mini-rooms prevent writers from getting the on-set production experience they need to be promoted to upper level positions by separating the writing process from the production process. This saddles television showrunners with the weight of labor typically shared by an entire room without fair compensation. For example, Alex O’Keefe, a writer on the popular television series “The Bear,” went to the WGA Awards with a negative bank account balance and is now applying for movie theater jobs. By and large, the studio system treats writers less like the cornerstones of the industry — the foundational originators of the work — and more like a think tank that exists to preserve and fuel the industry machine. The AMPTP refused to even counter the WGA’s proposals for mitigating the size and length of writers’ rooms.
The strike is a courageous stand against the greed of one of the most well known and powerful industries in the world. It will set the tone for workers in many different sectors whose jobs are threatened by advances in technology that are used under capitalism not to improve society but plunge people into poverty.
If you’d like to support the writers in their efforts, you can donate to the Entertainment Community Fund.