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What You Need to Know about the WGA Strike

What You Need to Know about the WGA Strike

“Writers Guild of America on Strike” are words written in large white letters on black and red picket signs. Within the streets of Hollywood and New York City, hundreds of writers have been pacing back and forth in front of major corporations, demanding fair treatment and pay.

On May 2, 2023, the Writers Guild of America, with over 11,000 members, decided to take a stand against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP, erupting into the first strike in over 15 years. After six weeks of negotiations, the WGA could not agree with AMPTP over a new three-year contract. 

However, not reaching a contract agreement was the final straw in a long list of unfair practices writers have tolerated for years. Writers have endured low pay and financial setbacks primarily due to the expansion of streaming services. For instance, writers typically work on around 20 episodes per television series. That number has been reduced to 8–10 episodes in recent years. 

Furthermore, a median screenwriter has been receiving the same pay since 2018, meaning salaries have not adjusted for inflation and have fallen 14% in the last five years. Weekly pay has declined by 23%.

What is even more upsetting is that entertainment CEOs make around $250 million annually. According to Francesca Ramsey, a writer, and a fellow picketer, Reed Hastings, the co-CEO of Netflix, has earned approximately $40.8 million. Yet writers are struggling to pay their rent.  

While better pay is a prominent aspect of the strike, there are multiple reasons for writers to stand under the sun with their signs in the air.

Why is WGA on strike, and will it help?

While going on strike was not the preferred solution for many writers, these movements have yielded success for writers in the past. Although no outcome is guaranteed, many writers carry the hope of what was achieved during the strike of 2007–2008. 

After about three months of striking, writers gained money for their healthcare fund, payment from internet residuals, and allocations for their pensions. It took a strike to get Hollywood to start supporting writers. 

Even a threat of a strike can yield changes. In 2017, the WGA was threatened by a 10 million dollar cut to their health funds. Because they presented the option of striking, the funding cut was denied. 

Despite the progress of the past, there is still room to grow and improve. Currently, the WGA is fighting for writer room lengths (see below) based on episode orders and that staff writer minimums be based on the number of episodes, in addition to regulating the use of AI.

On the ground, some picketers hold signs saying that mini rooms are writer’s rooms. According to NPR, mini rooms are rooms where a small number of writers are asked to come in and structure a story. When writers perform this work, they are paid a minimum fee rather than a standard fee and expected to produce a large amount of work in less time. 

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In addition, writers seek a fixed residual income based on increased contributions to pensions and health plans and adequate compensation for TV series from before, during, and after production. 

Alongside writers, many actors have joined the writers in their fight. For example, Lisa Ann Walter, from Abbott Elementary, joined the picketers to help communicate the importance of the writer’s work. Even the rock group Imagine Dragons showed up on the front lines to give an acoustic performance of some of their hit songs. 

The effects of the strike on audiences 

While staying informed about the strike, you may be wondering how the strike will affect your bingeing and streaming of new shows. The answers depend on the show. Some shows, such as The Lord of the Rings on Prime Video, have continued shooting without the influence of the writers. However, some shows have received a halt in their production. 

In addition, late-night TV shows and other talk shows will come to a halt without the support of writers. Even the MTV Movie & TV Awards went from a live to a pre-taped event. However, significant changes may only happen after summer. As the warmer season approaches, many studios will be on break, and most viewers will spend more time on the beach instead of in front of a screen.

However, once viewers return from summer break, they are eager to tune into new episodes of their favorite series, thus adding a little pressure to production studios. As more viewers become unhappy with the unavailability of their most cherished shows, industry producers will have to make some changes. 

With the dozens of shows on your watch later list, you may not immediately feel the strike’s effects. Nonetheless, viewers must show their support to the writers. One reason is that supporting writers means audiences don’t support industries with unfair pay practices.

Second, unfair practices with current writers make it harder for new writers to enter the industry. When new writers aren’t allowed to succeed, there are fewer diverse voices and fewer authentic and creative stories. Having fewer writers leads to what is known as homogenous entertainment, where movies and shows are centered around a single perspective. 

Thus if you, as a viewer, value representation, authentic human stories from people of marginalized communities told through multiple lenses, then writers across the country need better pay and better opportunities.

To stay updated on the event, follow @writersguildwest and @writersguildeast on Instagram.

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