WGA strike ends: members unanimously approve agreement

WGA strike Olivia
According to the The Writers Guild of America’s (WGA) website, the WGA is a labour union founded in 1954, consisting of thousands of members who write content for motion pictures, television, news, and online media. The responsibility of the WGA is to negotiate and administer contracts that protect the creative and economic rights of their members. In addition, they provide educational opportunities in the form of programs and seminars, and they fundamentally present writers’ views to various bodies of government. The WGA also advocates for legislation on issues of interest to writers, like access to health insurance for writers, and pensions for writers who qualify. Companies that are signatories to the WGA require that any of their future employees must be registered with the Guild. The initiation fee for the WGA membership is $2,500 (USD), and they currently consist of more than 20,000 members who have access to their privileges. As of October 9, 2023 the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) have reached a tentative three-year contract to end the strike and the new agreement is valid from September 25, 2023, to May 1, 2026, according to the WGA website. The previous writers’ strike stretched for 100 days, starting in November 2007 and continuing through February 2008. So, why did the WGA strike? The strike was in response to the concerns of writers’ livelihoods and job stability due to the shift in viewers and the lack of residual pay from the streaming industry. The residual pay that the writers are seeking is a type of royalty for reruns, which is considered crucial for middle-class writers whose work is mostly featured on streaming platforms. In the previous WGA contract, it was not adequately addressed how writers should be compensated for their streamed work, since the contract was created before the large-scale emergence of streaming media. Therefore, the writers have been searching for an overhaul in their earnings from streaming residuals. They are also seeking protection from the phenomenon of “mini-rooms”, which is a term used to describe the process where a small group of writers writes multiple scripts for a show’s potential first season prior to the start of the production; since the show has not been greenlit yet the writers suffer from low wages, insecure job stability, and a lack of respect for their profession. On March 14, the WGA released a report addressing the issues regarding this and in a section, they stated, “On TV staffs, more writers are working at [a] minimum regardless of experience, often for fewer weeks, or in mini rooms, while showrunners are left without a writing staff to complete the season,” the report states. “And while series budgets have soared over the past decade, median writer-producer pay has fallen.” The WGA leaders have stated that the survival of writing as a profession is at stake in this negotiation. So, what were the demands from the WGA  that were met in the agreement? According to the WGA, their proposals to the studios would initially cost the studios $429 million per year but the studios initially counter-proposed a deal amounting to $86 million. This deal was outright rejected by the Guild. The Guild initially demanded regulations regarding artificial intelligence regulation, improved pay structures, protection of the writers’ room, residuals for streaming, and job stability for the writers. A new deal was reached with the AMPTP, which includes Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, NBC Universal, Paramount, and Sony. This new agreement will be valid from September 25, 2023, through May 1, 2026. The demands that were met include increased foreign streaming residuals, a viewership-based streaming bonus, and guarantees that artificial intelligence (AI) will not encroach on writers’ credits and compensation. To dive into the demands further, the WGA released a summary of a 94-page contract agreement after their agreement with the AMTP. The terms included in the summary were: weekly pay increases for staff writers and Article 14 writers, increased foreign streaming residuals amounting to a 76% increase, viewership-based streaming bonus, streaming data transparency, prohibiting artificial intelligence from encroaching on a writer’s credibility, allowing the use of AI for writers through studio approval, studio disclosure of AI’s influence on any studio material given to writers, and banning the  use of writers’ materials to train AI systems. Ultimately, the WGA and AMPTP agreement brings promise to the workplace for writers in this industry. The improved pay structure through increased royalties and improved job stability allows writers to assert their influence in the industry. Additionally, the improved pay structure and job stability allow the “mini rooms” to be eliminated with the new leverages that the writers now possess. Furthermore, the deal is considered exceptional and allows for adequate futureproofing until 2026, with protection from artificial intelligence influences, streaming industry shifts, and royalty payments. Although the dual strikes from both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA caused an economic impact estimated from $5 billion to $6 billion, the agreement has provided a platform for writers to operate in a more stable and safer workplace environment than before. Although the WGA strike has ended, The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) is still on strike and is in negotiations with the studios. Hence, they are also awaiting a new contract agreement, so the film industry has not been completely rectified yet, and they require some more time to return to normal operations.

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