Striking Writers Sound Off on ‘Hot Labor Summer’: ‘Our Fight Is the Tip of the Iceberg’

“People are seeing our struggle and are identifying with it,” WGA negotiator Luvh Rakhe tells TheWrap

WGA picket line at Fox Studios on August 7, 2023
WGA picket line at Fox Studios on Aug. 7, 2023. (Sharon Knolle/TheWrap)

Members of WGA and SAG-AFTRA aren’t the only ones on the picket line right now: The walkout of Los Angeles city workers on Tuesday added to the growing number of labor unions striking for better wages and working conditions.

As one WGA captain said when Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 11 joined them on a recent rally in Hollywood: “L.A. is a union town, and this is going to be a hot strike summer!” California teachers went on strike in May, UPS drivers’ potential walkout was narrowly averted after reaching a tentative agreement on July 25, and hundreds of L.A. hotel workers walked off the job on Thursday.

With unions developing across several industries across the country so far this year, including VFX artists and Starbucks workers, WGA negotiator Luvh Rakhe told TheWrap that “every person on Earth is wrestling with these corporations,” and that it’s “heartening” to see other workers striking for a bigger share of the corporate pie.

“I think that the structural factors that we are wrestling with are what every American, every person on Earth, is wrestling with these corporations that are increasingly concentrated, and are using their oligopolistic power to push down costs, which in the case of individual human beings is their salaries and incomes,” said Rakhe, who’s written for FXX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and Fox’s “New Girl.”

“Our fight is the tip of the iceberg of a national and global crisis of labor [laws],” TV writer and playwright Andrew Saito told TheWrap, adding that the issues the Hollywood guilds are fighting against have relevance in other industries as well. “Our jobs are not the only ones threatened by AI; our jobs are not the only ones threatened by the gilded class, [which is] trying to suck every drop of work out of us as possible.”

For WGA Captain Jon Sherman, who wrote on series including “Frasier,” “Royal Pains” and “Sabrina The Teenage Witch,” the current labor movement builds on the last 30 years of economic policy, as the rich got richer while everyone else slowly moved into lower economic classes and “the people at the bottom drop[ped] out entirely.”

“The fact that we have homeless people on the street is related to the economic policy that is creating this sense of solidarity among multiple unions who are all saying, ‘Well, this is not working for us, we’re fed up. We’ve been asked to take a little bit less, a little bit less, a little bit less, a little bit less with the promise that if we give the tax breaks to the top, if we give the companies more, if we give the CEOs more, it’s all going to benefit everyone,’” Sherman said. “And it never has — it’s only benefitted them.”

As unions across industries join together to fight for fair wages and proper protections, any perceived elitism associated with the entertainment industry has also dissipated on the picket lines.

“It makes us feel like for once we’re not the elite industry,” WGA Negotiating Committee member Nicole Yorkin told TheWrap. “We are workers like everybody else, like teachers… like painters, like IATSE. “There’s this feeling that all of us are in it together and have each other’s backs.”

TheWrap also spoke to a member of a printing guild from Rochester, New York, on Thursday who had joined the picket line outside of Netflix. Mike Stafford of the Printing Packaging and Production Workers in North America Global 503 was not affiliated in any way with the WGA or SAG-AFTRA and didn’t know anyone in town.

“I was just out here on vacation. I had an extra day before my family got out here, just supporting all the workers,” he said. While his own guild hasn’t gone on strike, he said, he’s also been on picket lines “from New York City to California before and up into Canada.” Stafford added, “I think it’s a wakeup call for corporate America. It’s been an employers’ market for the last 60 years. And now it’s starting to come back our way.

Rakhe commented, “I think that people are seeing our struggle and are identifying with it and find it inspiring. That’s my hope. We also understand that there’s a lot of disruption going on at the same time, but it’s been very heartening to me to see support not only from this person you mentioned from Rochester, but all of our fellow Hollywood workers.”

“Coming out of the pandemic, I think people have learned that you can’t take workers for granted,” David Green, president of SEIU Local 721, told CNN on Tuesday. “We’re fabric of the community, we affect your life on a day-to-day basis” he said of the union that includes LAX shuttle drivers and mechanics, and port boat captains.

For all of TheWrap’s WGA strike coverage, click here.