The tentative agreement between studios and writers heads to a vote by Writers Guild of America membership that opens Monday morning. But not all WGA members will get to vote on whether to approve it, even if they regularly joined picket lines — those who didn’t earn enough from WGA-covered work in recent years will have to sit this one out.
WGA member Aadip Desai spoke with TheWrap about why he was among those who wrote on social media about his frustration with the Guild for not letting him and others vote, as well as why he views this as a significant diversity issue.
The WGA did not immediately return a request for comment.
Sharing an email from the WGA on social media, noting that he’s not eligible, Desai wrote, “Marginalized writers enthusiastically sacrificed our time, energy, money, health, and safety for 148 days. The WGA PR machine benefited from our diverse visibility. But, many of us don’t have writing jobs to return to due to systemic issues within. This email twists the knife.”
Desai wrote that he knew this was a possibility because he also wasn’t able to participate in the original strike authorization vote. He also pointed out that the amount someone needs to earn to be eligible was increased several years ago.
Members have to be both paid up on their dues and have earned at least $37,953.51 from WGA-covered work in the past six years, or have at least 15 years where they earned at least $5,000 from WGA-covered work.
Other writers expressed their sympathies in replies to Desai’s post, including others who noted that they also received the same email from the guild.
He found this email particularly frustrating, despite being in support of the deal between the WGA and AMPTP, after frequently picketing as a WGA member throughout the summer. He noted that, while he was able to attend, some WGA members weren’t able to go to the large post-deal meeting earlier this week.
“I was just at a gate, blocking cars with my body,” Desai told TheWrap. “It’s really hard to be out there every day, fighting for this union, and then when it comes down to it, they take your voice away, because you didn’t make enough. But you didn’t make enough because of these issues in the business, that have nothing to do with your writing.”
Desai expressed particular appreciation for the new contract with studios giving TV staff writers script fees, as well as protections against artificial intelligence. But he noted that he disagrees with tying income to members’ ability to vote, comparing the practice to voting poll taxes.
“I’m a loyal union person, and I think the deal is amazing. So it’s not me being against a deal personally,” Desai said. “I’m not trying to start s–t.”
He added, “I truly felt that the deal far exceeded what I thought we’d get. I congratulated and thanked [chief WGA negotiator] Ellen Stutzman personally on Wednesday night.”
Since people of color and women are affected significantly by the changes, Desai argued that one potential answer would be more widely opening up the vote in a strike year.
“It’s an opinion. That’s all a vote is, is an opinion,” Desai said. “Maybe it is this notion, we don’t want people who aren’t working to have an outsize effect on outcomes, but I feel like if you’re in the mix and you’re trying to get work — you’re not retired, you’re trying to get back in, you should be able to vote.”
Showrunners and other high-level staff will get to vote due to the amount they’ve earned in recent years, Desai noted, but those lower down the rungs may not. He noted that this includes a disproportionately higher number of people of color and women, citing his own experience being staffed out of a studio diversity program on “The Goldbergs” but not staffing on a WGA-covered show again. (He has since written for several animated programs.)
Desai pointed to the lack of diversity on the WGA’s recently elected board, which Desai said is “very white,” while the WGA Negotiating Committee was more diverse.
“They say that inclusion is important to them, but it’s not like, ‘here’s an action plan,’” Desai said.
Desai also said that he hopes to see the way that writers get hired for shows more deeply addressed going forward.
“I’m excited for the post-strike guild, because I think people are more willing to speak out about issues like this,” Desai said. “Hopefully it won’t fall on deaf ears.”
He added, “Although I’m concerned about the lack of diversity on the Board, I’m hopeful that they will be receptive to feedback from concerned members, regardless of their voting status.”