WGA to Picket on Tuesday If No Deal Reached, Union Says in Memo to Members

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Members are being surveyed on their preferred picket line times as Hollywood waits to see if a shutdown will happen

Hollywood Writers Strike
This is the first writers' strike since November 2007. (Getty, Christopher Smith, TheWrap)

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UPDATE 7:45 p.m. PT: In an email sent Monday night, the Writers Guild of America announced that there will not be an extension to the midnight deadline and that members will be asked to report to their assigned picket lines on Tuesday afternoon if a deal is not reached.

“We are still at the AMPTP in negotiations with our midnight contract deadline approaching quickly. If we don’t reach an agreement and a strike is called, picketing will begin tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon,” the email read. “As soon as we have definitive news, you’ll hear from us via email and on our website. We appreciate your patience and ongoing support.”

In their own statement Monday night, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said a deal had not been reached after talks finished for the day.

“Negotiations between the AMPTP and the WGA concluded without an agreement today,” the statement said. “The AMPTP presented a comprehensive package proposal to the Guild last night which included generous increases in compensation for writers as well as improvements in streaming residuals. The AMPTP also indicated to the WGA that it is prepared to improve that offer, but was unwilling to do so because of the magnitude of other proposals still on the table that the Guild continues to insist upon. The primary sticking points are “mandatory staffing,” and “duration of employment” — Guild proposals that would require a company to staff a show with a certain number of writers for a specified period of time, whether needed or not.

“The AMPTP member companies remain united in their desire to reach a deal that is mutually beneficial to writers and the health and longevity of the industry, and to avoid hardship to the thousands of employees who depend upon the industry for their livelihoods,” the statement continued.

“The AMPTP is willing to engage in discussions with the WGA in an effort to break this logjam.”

EARLIER: Hollywood is bracing for a strike.

The Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have yet to reach a deal on a new bargaining agreement, and insiders told TheWrap that they are pessimistic that the union and studios can reach a deal that can keep productions across Hollywood from being brought to a screeching halt before a Monday deadline at midnight.

Two individuals with knowledge of the talks said some progress had been made over the past week though they wouldn’t specify which issues were advancing to protect the confidentiality of labor talks. The individuals also said that despite an exchange of new proposals this weekend, there are other issues where the two sides are “still far apart,” as one insider put it.

In the meantime, WGA emailed surveys on Sunday to its 20,000 members asking for their preferred picket line times and locations should a strike be ordered. All guild members are required to take part in picket lines “absent a valid medical excuse, non writing employment, compelling personal circumstances [e.g., essential child or elder care] or emergency,” according to the guild’s strike rules.

Sometimes the threat of a looming deadline can lead to an agreement as time runs out, as was the case in the fall of 2021 when IATSE and AMPTP came to terms on a bargaining agreement with less than 48 hours before a strike deadline set by the below-the-line crew union. In 2017, a tentative agreement between the WGA and AMPTP was announced by both sides 15 minutes after a midnight strike deadline.

But these talks come at a time when the WGA has united behind a push for drastic change to ensure “the survival of writing as a profession,” as its leadership said in one memo. The rank and file clearly agree as more than 9,000 guild members authorized their leaders to issue a strike if a deal was not met by the deadline on Monday night.

With the possibility of a strike shutting down Hollywood not only real but quite likely, the situation is being addressed by the first line of programming that will be affected: late-night television.

“If you don’t see me here next week, know that it is something that is not done lightly,” Seth Meyers told his “Late Night” viewers this past week as he explained the WGA negotiations to them. The host noted that the last WGA strike in 2007-2008 was “miserable” when he was head writer of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” but also stressed that “what the writers are asking for is not unreasonable, and as a proud member of the guild, I’m proud that there is an organization that looks out for the best interests of writers.”

Currently, “SNL” has scheduled a new episode to air this coming Saturday with alum Pete Davidson hosting for the first time since leaving the sketch show, but it and other late-night shows will immediately go dark if a strike takes place, putting hundreds if not thousands of production crew members out of work.

The ripple effects of the strike will likely then extend to the fall TV season, as writers usually begin working on new seasons of network and cable shows in May and June. That working period will likely be completely erased if a strike happens, as the AMPTP and WGA likely wouldn’t return to the negotiating table until late June at the earliest.

That’s because the AMPTP has already made agreements with the Directors Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA to begin talks on their bargaining agreements, with DGA talks set to begin on May 10 and SAG-AFTRA on June 7. As the AMPTP must relay information from labor talks to the studios it represents, it only negotiates with one guild at a time, so resolving a writers’ strike wouldn’t happen until the studios complete talks with the directors’ and actors’ unions — assuming that they reach a deal with them at all.

For all three guilds, the common thread has been a demand to change how their members are paid for streaming shows and movies, with the WGA pointing to data that demonstrates that nearly half of all TV writers are being paid at minimum rates as compared to a third of writers a decade ago. The trend of shows with fewer episodes brought about by streaming has been blamed as the major factor behind this trend.

WGA has also blamed the abuse of so-called “mini-rooms” as a factor behind the drop in writer pay, as streamers have used the practice of ordering more scripts on a project before production begins. These mini-rooms, despite doing the same work as a normal writers room, pay at minimum rates and can extend for much longer than initially expected without the pressure of a production start date.

While the WGA has urged writers for years to negotiate with their agents for higher overscale pay and protections when they are asked to do mini-rooms, the guild has included in its pattern of demands proposed protections for writers such as minimum staffing requirements for writers rooms.

A studio insider who spoke to TheWrap on condition of anonymity said that there would be an impasse between the streaming studios represented by the AMPTP and the WGA on staffing requirements or any efforts to regulate mini-room usage and compensation.

“Studios hold tight onto their control over employment on productions and I don’t see that changing any time soon,” the insider said. “As for mini-rooms, streamers have used that as a way to be more selective on productions they greenlight and to have more confidence that they’re going to get a return on investment. Are they going to be willing to let go of that?”

Writers struck over emerging tech issues in 2008. Could they strike again in 2023?
Writers have dug up signs from the 2007-2008 strike and are preparing to use them again. (Photo by Getty Images)

In the meantime, strike captains and member volunteers in the WGA have spent the weekend putting together thousands of picket signs should they get the order late on Monday to put down their keyboards and gather Tuesday morning outside of Hollywood’s production offices. Some of the signs were used during the 2007 strike and have been kept in storage since then, such as one found by “M3GAN” writer Akela Cooper that was signed by fellow guild member David Slack.

“We marched and won then,” Slack tweeted with a picture of the sign. “And if we have to, we’ll march and win again.

Want more information on the reasons behind a potential strike? Read about all the issues here.