Monday, March 27, 2017
What you should know about a potential WGA strike
No one in the WGA wants to go on strike. We only strike because it’s our absolute last resort.
The AMPTP (producers) completely control the situation. If they feel it’s inconvenient or too costly for a strike they negotiate a fair contract and move on. If they feel there’s something they don’t wish to give up or they want to be punitive and it’s worth the disruption they’ll push us to a strike. So don’t kid yourself --
THEY orchestrate the strike not the WGA.
Likewise, during a strike, when they feel it’s gone on long enough they settle and everybody goes back to work. Usually, it’s not a table of twenty negotiators that hammer things out; it’s a back room with four people. For years, Lew Wasserman, the head of Universal was that guy.
Remember that all press releases are posturing. You'll read and hear angry statements accusing the other side of hateful practices, and yet when it’s settled everybody will hug and it’s a lovefest.
The AMPTP will always try to sell to the public that the WGA is the bad guy. Greedy writers are preventing you from seeing new episodes of your favorite shows. Don't you believe it.
Writers have less leverage than other guilds. That's a fact. When actors or directors go on strike the industry immediately stops dead. When writers go on strike stockpiled scripts can still be shot.
Since we don’t have as much leverage we generally do get screwed more often. That too is just a fact.
People say why don’t writers just accept the deal the DGA took? Because a lot of our issues are different.
It’s still early.
Major agencies don't want a strike either.
The AMPTP could just be testing the waters to see whether the WGA membership is willing to undertake the hardships of a work stoppage. Once they know we are all in they might be more willing to negotiate in better faith and get a deal done.
And there’s been a precedent. The WGA has gone out on strike before. And stayed out for months. A strike authorization is not an idle threat.
A “yes” vote for strike authorization does not mean the WGA is necessarily going out on strike. It just gives the negotiating committee ammunition that we’re willing to put down our pens (although no one writes with a pen anymore). Should negotiations completely break down the board could then trigger the strike.
The AMPTP has a lot to lose with a strike. They’re making $51 billion in profits these days. Way up from past years. That’s a pretty nice incentive to keep things going as is.
We’ve gone up to the very brink before and sometimes the deal is settled at the eleventh hour.
A strike is the only way writers will ever get in their 10,000 steps.
Now for some specifics:
There are some years when writers are trying to set a precedent and get in on a new revenue stream – like VHS and DVD sales when those were big and now streaming formulas. Those negotiations are wildly complicated because no one really knows what the future will bring. Like I said, DVD sales were once huge and worth a long stoppage to get a piece of that pie. Now DVD sales are relatively insignificant compared to streaming options. But this year the WGA is really looking to just increase minimums, correct some injustices, and build up its health plan.
As mentioned, $51 billion in profit and yet writer budgets on TV series have not gone up. Plus, networks are buying fewer episodes. So you could be on staff of a show, making decent money per episode, but they’re only making eight episodes. In the past they might have made 13 or even 22.
Since writing partners split a salary, producers are now taking two lower level writers and forcing them to be partners, thus forcing them to surrender half their entry-level salaries. That way the producer gets two writers for the price of one and lower level writers have no choice but to take it if they want a job. How unfair is that? It is possible for a lower level writer to work full-time on a series (50+ hours a week) and still not qualify for health insurance because they haven’t earned enough.
The bottom line is that after two weeks of “negotiating” the AMPTP has given in on nothing, thus setting the stage for a confrontation.
And at the end of the day, there will be increases, there will be some relief for the pension and health plan, and other sticking points will meet in the middle. It’s just that this deal could come a week from now or in six months after a bitter strike (that also causes suffering to many other industry workers who have no dogs in this race).
In the last strike in 2007 I tried to keep you all abreast of what was going on. Lots of you don’t live in LA and don’t bother reading the industry trades (even though you're missing BEAUTY AND THE BEAST'S daily overseas boxoffice total). As before, I will try to be as honest and factual in covering this potential strike. The next few weeks (or months) could be a rollercoaster. The current contract is up May 1st. But the one takeaway I want you to have from this post is that writers do not want to go on strike. And it can be avoided. It’s just not up to us.