WHY DOES A WGA STRIKE MATTER?

What a world, right? It’s hard to care about the concerns of writers when the world is in such disorder. Undocumented people of the US and the citizens of Syria and Mosul have problems most of us can only imagine and even then not fully understand.

But we may strike. It’s happening. And I have more ground to stand on when expressing opinions on this than many of the things I spout off on.

There’s a lot of good writing on the strike. Duh. For the facts of this particular strike I refer you to the strike captain letter published here.

So I’ll just give you a few tidbits that have been rolling around in my brain, for what they’re worth.

I’ve heard anxiety that showrunners don’t care about the concerns of lower level writers around the strike. As somebody who will vocally support a strike if we can’t reach a reasonable agreement, I may have come off this way. And I’m sorry if I did. I know it will impact people in real, scary ways. My subconscious is also scared. Last night I had a dream that, because of financial worries, I took a sales job selling sparkling water (my boss was this kind of needy guy from “Married at First Sight” but that’s another story…) I think, as a showrunner who makes more money, I need to take those concerns seriously and make sure our Strike Fund for writers is generously funded. In addition, those of us with savings should reach out to people who might be struggling and make sure they don’t have to sacrifice one bit more than we do. And if you’re somebody who will face financial hardship over the strike, you deserve to feel supported by your union members. There is no shame in this. That is what unions should be about. Banding together for the common good.

Which brings me to my next point. Writers have taken a serious pay cut over the last few years. In a time when our industry is booming. This short-order business is a gift to our corporate bosses. They get better product for less.

This is where my blood boils — because it reflects the dark side of capitalism, which seems to be everywhere lately.

Corporations are expected to post gains every quarter, and the stock market goes up and up and up. But, really, there are only a few ways that’s endlessly possible. Two of them are corruption and exploitation of those less powerful.

Do you feel busy? More busy than is comfortable? Are you having trouble sleeping? Does it seem either heroic, irresponsible or weak to take a vacation?

I talk to more and more people who feel squeezed on all sides. And that, in part, is because as a nation we’re all are expected to do more for less. Because the folks who own a lot of the big businesses are expected to produce more for less. Because that stock market has to go up and up and up.

I realize this is over-simplification, but I think there’s truth in it. And the ugliest truth of all — most of the gains from all this productivity goes into the pockets of a very few, corpulent cats. The same (mostly male, mostly white) cats who are happy to lay waste to our environment, our people and our minds if it makes them a buck.

Many in the 1% of the 1% seem to believe in exceptionalism over all. It’s a dog eat dog world — and these cats are full of dog. They’ve eaten so much dog they’re pooping puppies. It’s ugly. It’s mean. And if we don’t fight back, it’s only going to get worse. Not just for writers. For everybody.

(That was a lot of cat and dog imagery. I give myself that note.)

My point is — we fight not just to protect our wages, our insurance and our share of the profits from what we’ve created — we fight because it’s the only way to take a stand against greed run amok and the damage it does to us all.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about, is why so many writers think “it looks bad” to “the public” to strike when many of us make a lot of money doing our jobs, and we’re fighting to keep making a lot of money. It seems like an elitist battle, one that has no place in the world when life is so hard for so many.

First — the world has been ending for as long as I’ve been alive. By that I mean, if we wait for a time to fight when everything is peachy… oh yeah, everything is never peachy. Things are good and bad and some guy is always walking around with a sign that says the end times are coming. Get used to it.

And more importantly, we make a lot of money because we create things that make a lot of money for our bosses. And for most writers, it’s not like we were born into it. We worked as assistants or waiters or sold sparkling water for that needy guy. We watched our friends take more traditional routes with “job tracks”. And we wrote — badly, betterly and then employable…ly. For most of us, the day we got in the Writer’s Guild of America was a big flipping day. It was the beginning of seeing our crazy gamble pay off after a lot of uncertainty and financial insecurity.  Most of us took a huge risk to win big, so why are we embarrassed if we win big? And if you’re a woman, you get 10 extra points for having balls. If you’re a man of color, more points, more balls. If you’re a woman of color, even more. If you’re a LBGTQ woman of color with a disability you get all the points. You have all the balls.

And why do we win? Because every writer who works is an inventor. We make things with words that entertain people. Something unique that only we can create. And that thing can be super profitable. Can you imagine inventing a toy, say, that was wildly successful and having your boss come back, ask you to make more toys — and as a reward for your good work offer to pay you half?

Writers need to see their work as product. Product that has value. A product that they invent and get to share in any profit it makes.

Right? Why is that immoral? I bet the guy who invented the Pet Rock or the guy who wrote “Go the Fuck to Sleep” doesn’t lie awake at night cursing his good fortune. He’s like, yeah! I made that shit up and people liked it. I’m puppy poop level well off! Aren’t you sorry you didn’t think of it??

We make this shit up. Be proud. Be strong. Demand what’s yours.

 

 

 

FROM WGA STRIKE CAPTAIN


Subject: Information from a WGA contract captain

Dear friends and fellow WGA members,

I’m writing to you today in my capacity as a contract captain for the WGA. A group of several hundred of us met yesterday at WGA West headquarters for around three hours, during which the negotiating committee updated us on everything (they were able to share) about the process thus far, after which we asked questions (many, many questions).

My intent with this email is:

– to tell you everything I can about what happened in our two-week negotiation thus far, including when and why they broke off
– to describe what the AMPTP put on the table, and what they refused to put on the table
– to describe, in detail, exactly what we are fighting for in these 2017 negotiations
– to dispel some misinformation I’ve seen floating around both on my Facebook feed, and in the Deadline comments section
– to move you closer to voting YES on the strike authorization vote
First, some important dates. As you may have seen in the press in the last few days, the WGA and AMPTP are resuming negotiations on Monday, April 10. These negotiations are scheduled to run for five days. There are currently two WGA meetings (scheduled before the resumptions of talks had been announced) on Tuesday, April 18 and Wednesday, April 19 where WGA members will be allowed to ask any and all questions before members cast ballots towards the upcoming strike authorization vote (with an online vote occurring just after the April 19th meeting). Our contracts expire at midnight on May 1.

Now – on the the real talk.
 
1. What are we even fighting for?
We are fighting for 1/3 of 1% of the $51billion in profits made by AMPTP in 2015 (the last reported numbers). I’ve heard some calls from writers asking for these numbers to be parsed – after all, aren’t these vast conglomerates raking in money from thousands of different sources, and isn’t it possible television ISN’T actually profitable (as some AMPTP members continue to claim)? Long story short, it doesn’t matter which percentage comes from where – AMPTP admitted as much in negotiations. Our financial ask amounts to a very, very, very small piece of the pie. In fact, AMPTP representatives said during the negotiations, “Nobody on our side is pleading poverty.” They can pay; the moral issue of whether they SHOULD pay is another thing entirely.

Some of the most important things in our current proposal package to the AMPTP include:

– a reorganization of how salaries are paid that addresses the fact that 70% of new shows have short-order seasons (basically, this proposal says that episode producing fees must be paid out over 2 weeks and not amortized over many more)
– a standard 3% increase in minimums
– parity on script fees (so that basic cable and streaming services don’t get to pay markedly lower script fees to writers)
– a rational policy on family leave (which was compiled from a number of meetings the WGA held with membership to come up with proposals and plans)
– for our Pension and Health Plans to be fully funded
If you want to boil it down? We’re fighting for fair pay and benefits, plain and simple.

2. But what does all that MEAN? Hard numbers would help.
One of the huge issues of this negotiation is the impact short-order seasons have had on our salaries – and by “our” I mean over half of current working writers.

Three years ago, 3% of writer-producers were working for scale ($6500/week). This year, FIFTY-ONE PERCENT of writer-producers are working for scale. For those being paid episodically, they have found themselves working for more and more weeks – without additional compensation, driving their weeklies down to scale. Writers are making, on average, 23% less than just five years ago. Showrunners are not excluded from this. As their writing and producing duties are being stretched out over a year or longer, their fees are being amortized over longer and longer periods of time as well.

3. How have negotiations been so far?
Deadline got one thing right – they’ve been very cordial. So much so that our committee feels confident that a deal is within reach. They reported that the AMPTP is bringing much less hostility to the table than in 2007. And while they started by spouting the exact same lines they spouted in our last negotiation, three years ago (“This isn’t a mature industry; it’s not profitable”), when the WGA pressed them, they gave in and said, “Okay, yeah, nobody is pleading poverty.” I’ve heard the WGA negotiating committee described as “warmongering,” “sabre-rattling,” etc. – it’s simply not true. The second they feel like AMPTP presents a proposal that can be brought to membership, that’s what will happen. Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened yet.

So, what actually goes on during these negotiations? Basically, both sides seesaw back and forth, taking things off the table, steering into the heart of what’s at stake. WGA re-presented their package to AMPTP on Wednesday – only to have AMPTP re-present their own package on Thursday that offered… nothing.

Regarding short seasons, they said paying out fees over 2 weeks was impossible – but they could do 3 weeks. But they put up so many fences and backdoors and exceptions around this 3 week timeline that, as one member of the negotiating committee put it, “It wouldn’t apply to any living writer.”

They are not willing to give us a 3% raise on minimums.

They are not willing to accept the WGA’s proposal on family leave.

And regarding our Health Plan, they offered NO MONEY – they said WE could pay into it from our own salaries to make it whole – and invoked a rule that says ANY FUTURE SHORTFALLS will ONLY be made up by cuts to benefits, never by increases in employer contributions.

From those saying, “eh, let’s just take what they’re offering the DGA.” – They didn’t offer us the DGA deal; they are offering us nothing.
Then, at 9pm on Thursday night, the head of the AMPTP negotiating committee canceled the final day of talks. So, despite what you might have read, the WGA didn’t walk – the AMPTP were the ones to stop talks. Hopefully, when negotiations resume on April 10, they’ll be willing to play ball.


4. The other Guilds have a two-tier health plan. Couldn’t we just do that?
One of the tactics of breaking the organized labor movement has been to drive a wedge between those who make more and those who make less; those with seniority versus those who have just joined. A two-tiered system would see the wealthier members get better benefits and pay less, while the less-wealthy members  would see cuts in benefits and pay more. I have already heard low-level writers complain that the wealthiest members of the Guild aren’t paying attention to their concerns about a potential strike – this would just serve to divide us further. It is unfair to set an arbitrary monetary dividing line – especially when the AMPTP can afford to pay. We aren’t asking for something they can’t give us – again, we are asking for 1/3 of 1%.


5. What about the stockpiles of content the studios have in their back pockets?
Do places like Netflix and Amazon have (old) content that’s always available? Yes. Do some of those streaming services have NEW content that will be available soon? Sure. But not that much. And remember, in the case of a strike, showrunners can’t complete their post duties. So content will not continue to get made. Shows just stop. Also, know that the content Netlix, Amazon and Hulu have makes the networks very nervous, because they don’t have the same stuff.

At the end of the day, it is an indisputable fact that there is a global shortage of television and an increasing demand for it. Writers are in demand. New shows are in demand. While domestic cable markets have contracted, global cable markets have continued to expand. Our largest pool of residuals is from foreign free TV, second only to streaming.


6. Can’t our showrunners give us some of the things we’re asking for?
As the head of our negotiating committee (who has thirty years of experience organizing labor) said yesterday, people say the same about factory line heads – and it’s not true. Studios give showrunners, for example, a pool of 100k and say, that’s your writer budget, make it work. Showrunners are not “management” – they work under the management of the studios, just like the rank and file writers do.

And for those worried about showrunners voting against us – the negotiating committee reports that the most positive meeting they held this winter was the showrunner meeting. Showrunners want to fight for what’s fair.


7. I keep hearing we lost big in the 2007 strike, so what’s the point of striking now?
I wasn’t there; I also don’t think it’s worth our time to re-litigate the 2007 strike. HOWEVER this line – that we gained nothing – is misinformation at best, outright lies at worst.

Back during the 2007 negotiations, AMPTP flat-out told negotiators, “We want to explore internet TV without WGA members and we don’t want to pay for reuse.” That’s what we went to bat for – the right to staff streaming TV shows with WGA writers, and the right to be paid for those streams. As I said above, internet residuals are the second biggest bucket we have, and they’re growing. Fifty percent of our writers are writing for Amazon and Netflix – can you imagine a world where fifty percent of our writers aren’t covered by Guild contracts?
8. What is the Guild doing in the week leading up to these next negotiations? Because it feels like they’re putting all their eggs in the strike authorization vote and that doesn’t make me happy. Plus, reading Deadline has me really nervous about the public opinion in all this.
The WGA knows their messaging hasn’t been great, and that writers are scared, and nervous, and don’t feel like they have all the information. Okay, so they might not have grasped the complete picture of that until today – but they sure as hell do now.
Several things that are already in motion:

– The WGA has hired a PR firm (BerlinRosen) who have been working behind the scenes and now will be taking on a larger role
– This week the WGA begins its’ corporate campaign, where they reach directly out to key advertisers and corporate people to get them to lean on the AMPTP. (Just as a small example of how this can work: AT&T is currently in the middle of a huge merger with Time Warner and have warranted to their stockholders that there is no labor strike in the offing). The WGA are NOT the only ones with a vested interest in seeing this deal settled
– Contract captains (hi!) are beginning their work of talking one-on-one with writers to answer their questions, address their concerns, and get our message out there.
Regarding public opinion – we are not negotiating with the public. And Deadline – once in the hands of a single, pro-union individual – is now bought and paid for by the studios. Any information in Deadline should be read with a complete salt shaker at the ready.


9. Isn’t all this because the WGA negotiators really, really want to force a strike?

Absolutely, categorically not. NOBODY wants to strike. Not a single one of us. Not a single member of the negotiating committee, or WGA board member, or rank and file member.


10. So why would we vote to authorize a strike?

I’d like you to imagine something. It’s 9pm on Monday, May 1. Our contracts expire in 3 hours. And if WGA membership votes against a strike authorization – we will be forced to accept whatever deal the AMPTP presents at that late hour. Cuts in wages. Cuts to our pension and health plans. Things we will never, ever get back.

I’m not being histrionic. If we don’t fight, we WILL lose. At a time when organized labor is under attack, when Republicans are trying to force through a Right to Work (aka Right to Fire) bill, at a time when Congress is trying to wrench healthcare from working people – are we really willing to let our Guild crumble? Are we willing to deny our Guild the final piece of ammunition in the chamber?

AMPTP can afford it. We need to hold them to it. Fair pay and benefits, paid from their $51 billion in profits. It’s only right.

For a wonderful (and much more concise) article about all this stuff, go here.

And please write back with any questions. I’ll be in touch with more info the second I have it.