As of May 2, 2023, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) is on strike for the first time in 15 years, with writers for streaming services expressing frustration with inferior pay when compared to broadcast TV writers.
On top of the WGA’s demands for higher wages and stronger job security for their 11,000 writers, the union is calling for restrictions on AI to prevent studios from cutting their writing workforces.
The 2007 WGA strike lasted 14 weeks, or nearly 100 days, and halted many late-night shows and popular TV series. The final season of Scrubs was cut short, for example, and Supernatural’s third season was put on hold.
A resolution depends on when the WGA and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) will meet again to renegotiate, which is difficult to predict.
Learn more about the driving forces behind the recent WGA strike, and see my tips below for an idea of how a mediator would approach resolution.
Why is the WGA on Strike?
The WGA starts negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers every three years to establish fair pay for over 11,500 film, television, news, radio, and online writers.
This year, negotiations failed after six weeks of negotiations – and on May 2nd, 2023, WGA members started their protest. Get my overview below, and visit my recent appearance on Fox News for additional details.
Reduced Wages Due to Streaming Services
A recent report by the WGA revealed a 23% decline in median weekly writer-producer pay over the last decade after adjusting for inflation. Many of these complaints are from streaming writers, who point to shorter seasons and lower residual payments when compared to broadcast television. Streaming writers are currently paid an average salary of $40,000 per year, while broadcast TV writers bring home $130,000 on average.
The same report found that half of all TV series writers are being paid the basic minimum rate, an increase from 33% between 2013 and 2014. Writers belonging to the WGA believe companies have leveraged the transition to streaming to cut writer pay and separate writing from production, resulting in worsening working conditions.
Although consumers enjoy the binge-able nature of streamed television, the rise of streaming services has had an adverse effect on TV writers, according to the WGA.
In the days of cable, a successful show could run for seasons on end, giving writers a stable job for years to come.
Now, shows on streaming platforms can be binged within the week, resulting in shorter shows that are renewed with less consistency. In other words, streaming writers have to scramble for the next job once they’ve wrapped up their current project.
Undesirable Pay Structures
The WGA reports that half of all writers now work in streaming, which is known to offer fewer residuals for new and pre-existing shows. These are the payments writers receive when shows they’ve worked on are re-released as either reruns or in syndication.
As a result, writers have also cited higher residual payments in negotiations. One writer who worked on Jane the Virgin in the past shared a picture of a 3¢ residual check as proof, urging streaming services to “do better.”
Screenwriters are also wary of AI and its potential to be adopted by studios for the sake of labor savings. According to CBS News, studio executives claim that the first AI-generated script will be crafted within the next year – and writers are fighting for their jobs down the line.
There are three specific protections that writers are seeking to protect their jobs from the AI wave:
- AI won’t write or rewrite literary material
- AI won’t be used as source material
- Union-covered material won’t be used to train AI
The question remains how long this strike will last, with the WGA and AMPTP having ceased discussions since negotiations failed at the end of April.
My Tips for Resolution
As a mediator, there are a few ways I’d go about mediating negotiations between the WGA and the AMPTP. Here are a few tips for resolution that could bridge the gap and facilitate a mutually beneficial agreement, if the two parties agreed to sit down and continue negotiations:
Tip #1: Open & Transparent Communication
This is key in any mediation session – encouraging both parties to be open and honest with their communication. This is best accomplished by creating a safe and respectful environment where both the WGA and the AMPTP’s concerns are expressed and understood. During the session, I’d actively listen, ensuring both sides feel heard and acknowledged. It’s also important to encourage the use of “I” statements to foster empathy from both sides.
Tip #2: Focus on Core Interests
Next, I’d shift the focus of negotiations from position to interests. This involves getting to the bottom of both the WGA and AMPTP’s underlying needs, goals, and concerns, which can then offer a blueprint to resolution. During the session, I’d encourage both groups to consider the long-term sustainability of the industry, while showing the AMPTP the potential impact of AI on writer jobs, and the current wage gap between streaming and broadcast writers. Once the common interests shared by both parties are revealed, such as a desire for a thriving entertainment industry, potential solutions that satisfy those interests become much clearer.
Tip #3: Explore Collaborative Solutions
Lastly, it’s important to facilitate a collaborative and creative problem-solving process. With their separate and common interests established, I’d encourage the WGA and AMPTP to explore options that aren’t so obvious. This could include alternative compensation structures for writers, such as profit-sharing models or larger incentives tied to successful projects. The two groups could also look into ways to incorporate AI tools in a manner that complements writers’ work, rather than banning it completely, as the WGA desires.
Experienced Employment Law Attorney, Mediator, Arbitrator, Investigator, Legal, and Media Commentator
Twice-named a U.S. News Best Lawyer in America for employment and labor law, Angela Reddock-Wright is an employment and labor law attorney, mediator, arbitrator, and certified workplace and Title IX investigator (AWI-CH) in Los Angeles, CA. Known as the “Workplace Guru,” Angela is an influencer and leading authority on employment, workplace/HR, Title IX, hazing, and bullying issues. Furthermore, she’s been named a “Top 50 Woman Attorney” in California by Super Lawyers, a “Top California Employment Lawyer” by the Daily Journal, and one of Los Angeles’ “Most Influential Minority and Women Attorneys” by the Los Angeles Business Journal.
Angela is a regular legal and media commentator and analyst and has appeared on such media outlets as Good Morning America, Entertainment Tonight, Law and Crime with Brian Ross, Court TV, CNN, NewsNation, ABC News, CBS News, Fox 11 News, KTLA-5, the Black News Channel, Fox Soul – The Black Report, NPR, KPCC, Airtalk-89.3, KJLH Front Page with Dominique DiPrima, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the LA Times, Forbes.com, Yahoo! Entertainment, People Magazine, Essence Magazine, the Los Angeles Sentinel, LA Focus, Daily Journal, Our Weekly and the Wave Newspapers.
Angela is a member of the panel of distinguished mediators and arbitrators with Signature Resolution, a California dispute resolution company. She also owns her dispute resolution law firm, the Reddock Law Group of Los Angeles, specializing in the mediation, arbitration, and investigation of employment discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and other workplace claims, along with Title IX, sexual harassment, assault, and misconduct conduct cases, along with hazing and bullying cases in K-12 schools, colleges, and universities, fraternities and sororities; fire, police and other public safety agencies and departments; and other private and public sector workplaces.
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This communication is not legal advice. It is educational only. For legal advice, consult with an experienced employment law attorney in your state or city.