WGA Strike Grinds Production to a Halt

The Writer’s Guild of America strike will reach its fourth week Tuesday. - Photos by Gavin J. Quinton / Burbank Leader

Picketing continued in Burbank as the Writers Guild of America’s walkout will enter its fourth week Tuesday, with no word on renewed labor talks or movement toward resolution of a strike that has ground entertainment production to a halt.

A day after the WGA negotiating committee told its striking members that the producers alliance “refuses to negotiate a fair deal to address the existential crisis writers are facing,” picket lines went up again this week outside studios in Burbank.

Since the walkout began May 2, pickets have become the daily routine at the Walt Disney Co.’s corporate headquarters and Warner Bros. in Burbank, among other local studios.

Local elected officials, including Rep. Adam Schiff, Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, Mayor Konstantine Anthony, and other members of the Burbank City Council have shown support for guild writers by showing up at picket lines in studios in Burbank and Hollywood.

Tuesday, in a weekly update to members, the WGA negotiating committee also insisted that its overall contract demands for Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers — which represents the studios — would collectively cost the studios $429 million annually. Of that total, the committee said, $343 million would be attributable to the eight largest employers.

“For perspective, tens of billions are spent on the programming [that] writers create, $19 billion alone on original content for streaming services this year,” according to the committee. “And the cost of these proposed improvements is modest compared to industry revenues and profits but are essential to writers whose pay and working conditions have eroded over the past decade.

“These companies have made billions in profit off writers’ work, and they tell their investors every quarter about the importance of scripted content. Yet they are risking significant continued disruption in the coming weeks and months that would far outweigh the costs of settling,” the committee said in the update.

The WGA update came on a day that organizers of the Daytime Emmy Awards ceremonies, which were scheduled for June in downtown Los Angeles, announced the event was being postponed — the latest programming affected by the strike.

The WGA is pushing for improvements on a variety of fronts, notably for higher residual pay for streaming programs that have larger viewership, rather than the existing model that pays a standard rate regardless of a show’s success.

The union is also calling for industry standards on the number of writers assigned to each show, increases in foreign streaming residuals and regulations preventing the use of artificial intelligence technology to write or rewrite material.

Members of the Writers Guild of America picket in front of Walt Disney Co. in Burbank. The strike has ground film and TV production to a halt since it began on May 2.

The AMPTP has pushed back against some of the WGA’s demands, particularly around its calls for mandatory staffing and employment guarantees on programs.

“These proposals require studios to staff a show with a certain number of writers who will be hired for a specified period of time that may not align with the creative process,” according to the alliance. “If writing needs to be done, writers are hired, but these proposals require the employment of writers whether they’re needed for the creative process or not. While the WGA has argued that the proposal is necessary to ‘preserve the writers’ room,’ it is in reality a hiring quota that is incompatible with the creative nature of our industry.”

AMPTP has also pushed back against WGA demands around streaming residuals, saying the guild’s offer would increase rates by 200%.

The use of artificial intelligence has also emerged as a major topic, with Congress even holding a hearing on the issue Tuesday.

The WGA says it wants a ban on the use of AI and contends the AMPTP has refused to even negotiate the issue. The AMPTP said the issue raises “important creative and legal questions” and requires “a lot more discussion, which we’ve committed to doing.”

On June 7, the AMPTP is scheduled to begin negotiations with the SAG-AFTRA actors’ union, which has already come out in strong support of the striking writers.

“We are united in support of the WGA and I thank all of the SAG-AFTRA members who are showing solidarity with their strike,” SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher wrote in a message to its membership on Friday.

“For those who haven’t yet been able to do so, I hope you will join me and others in supporting the writers on a picket line. As a member of the WGA, I can say firsthand the contributions made by writers cannot be undermined, diminished or cheapened. I’ve said it a thousand times, if it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage!”

First published in the May 20 print issue of the Burbank Leader.