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WGA Strike Explained: The Issues and Why We Should Care

Update May 2 12:00 A.M. Editor's Note: This story has been edited to include the Writer's Guild of America's announcement to go on strike.

In a town filled with glitz and glamor, brimming to the rim with stories waiting to be told on the silver screen, TV writers are scrambling to complete scripts as producers are carefully planning out backup plans in the event Hollywood goes dark in the coming days. Film and TV writers are preparing to go to the picket lines and go on strike.


The Writers Guild of America (WGA) was in renegotiations for a new collective agreement as their current one is set to expire tonight at 11:59 p.m., waiting until the last possible minute to declare a strike. As no resolution was met, the WGA announced they had voted unanimously to strike at 12:01a.m. Tuesday. Writers will be forced to stop any work and can not be allowed to do so for the foreseeable future.


Although many binge-heavy watchers may not understand or care about the “ins and outs” of the trades, they’re going to feel the entertainment standstill once the Spring midseason run ends on network TV.


So, what do they want? What will happen to our content-consuming habits? Why should we care?


The WGA is an organization that represents writers within the film, television, radio, and new media industries like video games and animation. With approximately 20,000 members in its organization, the WGA focuses on establishing basic wages and fair compensation for its writers with television networks, production studios, and producers through three-year contracts. 


Since March 20, WGA has been in negotiations with the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), a coalition that represents a number of the industry’s largest production companies, streaming services, and studios, for a new contract that will get into effect Monday. Two of the WGA’s concerns are inadequate pay from the streaming boom and fear of Artificial Intelligence (AI) within the writers’ room.


On April 17, the WGA announced that 97.85% of their members had voted to authorize a strike after two weeks of both parties failing to succeed in an agreement.


“After two weeks at the bargaining table, [the studios] have failed to offer meaningful responses on the core economic issues in any of the WGA’s primary work areas — screen, episodic television, and comedy-variety,” WGA negotiators said in a statement. “They have listened politely to our presentations and made small moves in only a few areas, almost entirely coupled with rollbacks designed to offset any gains.” 


The WGA negotiators added that the studios have shown no signs that they will address the issues the union is determined to mend.


According to a press release AMPTP issued to the New York Times, a strike vote  “has always been a part of the WGA’s plan, announced before both parties exchanged proposals.”


“An agreement is only possible if the guild is committed to turning its focus to serious bargaining by engaging in full discussions of the issues with the companies and searching for reasonable compromises,” the group said.


With an overabundance of content funneling through and the shift toward streaming, the demand for writers would be high. In a report by the WGA called Writers Are Not Keeping Up, it was found that despite the demand, the compensation doesn’t match the strain.


“The companies have used the transition to streaming to cut writer pay and separate writing from production, worsening working conditions for the series writers at all levels,”  the report stated. 


The report found that on TV productions, more writers are working at minimum wages for less weeks or in scaled-down teams despite their level of experience. Showrunners are to complete the season without a writing staff.


Furthermore, the average writer-producer wage has decreased as series budgets have increased over the past decade.


Writers and showrunners are paid within the Minimum Basic Agreement listed in their contracts; a collective bargaining agreement that covers the benefits, rights, and protections for the work done by WGA members. The report concluded that the amount of TV writers working the minimum level of the MBA has jumped from 33% in 2013-2014 to almost half of all writers in 2021-2022. Median screenwriter pay has decreased by 14% when adjusted for inflation within the last five years.


In layman's terms,  no better pay, no new stories.  


Studios that are pushing back claim that the industry is facing budget constraints and utilized the thousands of layoffs at The Walt Disney Company as an example.


In addition to higher wages, the WGA is advocating for studios to regulate the use of AI in scriptwriting. In a thread on Twitter, the guild stated that AI could not be used to undermine the screenwriters and their working standards by impacting their compensation. 


Last week, other unions like SAG-AFTRA, IASTE, DGA, Teamsters, and also the American Federation of Musicians pledged support for WGA.


Since a deal isn’t reached and a strike is happening, what would happen to the TV landscape?


The most immediate effect would be toward shows that rely on new content or episodes every day. Late-night and daytime talk shows would be the first to suffer as shows like Saturday Night Live would have to go on without its writers behind the scenes. The second wave would affect network shows and sitcoms. As they are expected to start writing new seasons in the summer to return for fall, productions would be forced to shut down with no clear answer when these shows will return.


Streaming giants such as Netflix, Apple, and Amazon are a complicated matter. Since their structure models are based on having a plethora of content in their vault, they could use the “slow-burn” method and slowly release existing and new content over time. Platforms could also shift their focus towards international content as well since they wouldn’t be affected by the strike. Because streaming content is a relatively new concept, there is no clear answer on how the strike would affect them.


The last time Hollywood saw a writer strike, it lasted four months between 2007 and 2008. Since the strike happened mid-season, many viewers noticed its impacts as TV networks had to rely on reruns and reality shows for programming. Some series had to end their seasons early while others were canceled.


It is possible that the United States could see a resurgence of reality shows if the same problem arises or rely on international programming on the airwaves. 

It seems inconvenient for anyone to miss out on their favorite shows and return to the awkward TV period 2007 brought, but it’s still important for the WGA to fight for better pay. They only authorized the strike as a last resort in these negotiations. Writers deserve to have better compensation for their ability to bring new and creative stories onto our screens.

If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have acclaimed shows such as Abbot Elementary and Ted Lasso. And that would be a worse fate than networks developing a remake of The Apprentice.

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