The Writers Guild of America is currently on strike, marking the first strike of its kind since 2007. However, television and media, along with the way it is consumed, has changed drastically since that time. It wasn’t until around 2010 that streaming services like Netflix became commonplace in our households, which should have necessarily changed the way writers are paid. After all, actors can enjoy residuals from streaming services (but the fairness of that pay scheme is still widely debated, and not the subject of this blog), but what do writers get?
Television and film writers report that their pay has stagnated, despite the streaming industry experiencing rapid growth. However, studios claim that the transition to streaming actually supports lower pay. This is frustrating to say the least, given the fact that we wouldn’t have anything to stream if it wasn’t for the hard work of writers. It’s also frustrating given rising inflation rates and soaring costs of living.
The effect this strike has on media depends on the pace of the industry its related to. Films, for example, which have the longest production times, should not see an effect of this strike for films in production this year. Standard television shows will see an effect by the end of the year. Soap operas are thought to run out of episodes in just a month, given their rapid turnover rates. And daily late night shows, which rely heavily on the (literal) quick-wit of its writers, have all gone off air for the time being. Writers are picketing in New York and LA, most visibly in front of the Netflix Building.
This strike is nothing to take lightly. In April, more than 9,000 writers authorized a strike with a historic ninety-eight percent of the vote. But what exactly are they asking for? Amongst other things, the WGA seeks higher-fixed residual earnings, to standardize compensation and residual terms, to ensure compensation though all stages of production (pre-, production, and post-), to increase benefit contributions (pension and health), and to revise and expand all arbitrator lists in light of union-related disputes. Reportedly, the WGA was only asking for 6% increases in a multi-billion dollar industry, something the Alliance for Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) was not willing to accept.
Now, the workers are striking. Because they are represented by a union, they have the right to be heard by the employer via the collective bargaining process, and have the right to strike and cease working until their needs are met and a solution is negotiated.
Several celebrities have come out in endorsement of the striking workers. Quinta Brunson, creator of my favorite show, Abbott Elementary, has been seen at the picket lines as a member of the union herself. Drew Barrymore, who was set to host the MTV Movie & TV Awards Live Show that was canceled in light of the strike, also has publicly announced her support. Late Night hosts Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, and Seth Meyers have also announced their support. Snoop Dogg had some choice words to say about the unfair compensation schemes last week as he voiced his support as well.
The WGA also boasts a long list of supporters, which is notable because many of these groups have not seen eye to eye typically. However, all can agree that it is time that our writers are paid their fair share of the industries they power.
There are thoughts in the background that this showing of the effectiveness of unions will inspire more Americans to unionize. Here in Texas, unions do not have a very large presence. In 2022, union members only accounted for 4.1 of workers in Texas, which was up from its all-time lowpoint in 2021 of 3.8 percent. This is, to put it very gently, a hard state to unionize in, but you still have the right to pursue a union in your workplace in Texas. Unions do not have to be several-thousands of members deep to be effective, or strike for months at a time. A union, however, will assure that your employer has to hear your demands for better working conditions, whether that be pay, benefits, hours, or worksite conditions. And union workers make, on average, 15% more than non-union workers.
You have rights when considering unionizing. If you have attempted to stand up for the rights of yourself and other in the workplace and faced retaliation, you should consult with an employment attorney right away. Contact me in Dallas or one of our other talented Texas employment lawyers in Austin or Houston today.