As the Writers Guild of America strikes for the first time since 2007-08, more details are being released over what exactly led to the impasse in its talks with Hollywood studios on a new bargaining agreement.
In its statement announcing the end of talks, the studios’ labor representatives, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, said that “mandatory staffing,” and “duration of employment” were the “primary sticking points” when it came to the failed negotiations. In a side-by-side chart released by the WGA to its members in the email announcing the start of the strike, more information was given on what the two sides were proposing in talks.
For its mandatory staffing proposals, the WGA’s proposal called for at least six writers for “mini-rooms,” which are writers rooms created before a project is even greenlit to generate more scripts for studio consideration. Of those minimum six writers, at least four must have writer-producer status, ensuring higher minimum rates.
After a show is greenlit, the WGA proposal would also ensure that every writers room employs between six-12 writers depending on the number of episodes ordered. The WGA also proposed a guaranteed minimum of 10 weeks of work for mini-rooms and requirements that at least half of the minimum number of writers on greenlit productions remain employed during the entirety of production among other rules regarding proposed minimum employment times.
The WGA said in interviews and membership memos prior to the start of talks that such proposals were necessary to reverse the downward trend of real wages for writers, as streaming has led to shorter episode orders and mini-rooms where writers work at minimum rates.
But on both of these issues, the AMPTP rejected the WGA proposals without a counteroffer. Studio insiders told TheWrap that requirements on how many writers are employed and how long would be non-starters for the studios, as they see control over employment as their prerogative.
The WGA and AMPTP had come to agreement on some issues, including increasing the earnings cap on span protections and exclusivity to allow for higher wages for writer-producers and showrunners. Span protections would also be extended to writers on limited series, ensuring greater pay for shows like “The White Lotus” beyond minimum rates.
But the AMPTP’s proposed increases on minimum rates only reached 2-4% depending on the position, while WGA was looking for 5-6% increases. WGA also sought a 25% premium increase on weekly pay for all mini-rooms, while AMPTP countered with just a 5% increase that would apply “only when 3 or more writers (including teams) are hired for 10 or fewer weeks before a season 1 of a series.
“The studios’ responses to our proposals have been wholly insufficient, given the existential crisis writers are facing. The companies’ behavior has created a gig economy inside a union workforce, and their immovable stance in this negotiation has betrayed a commitment to further devaluing the profession of writing,” the WGA said in their email announcing a strike.
“From their refusal to guarantee any level of weekly employment in episodic television, to the creation of a “day rate” in comedy variety, to their stonewalling on free work for screenwriters and on AI for all writers, they have closed the door on their labor force and opened the door to writing as an entirely freelance profession. No such deal could ever be contemplated by this membership.”
Picket lines will begin in front of all the major studios and production offices in Los Angeles and New York starting at 1 p.m. local time on Tuesday. The strike is likely to last at least through late June as the AMPTP pivots to negotiations with the Directors Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA.