On May 2, 2023, screenwriters put down their pens and marched to the picket lines, beginning the first writers’ strike in 15 years.
Is The Writers’ Strike Over?
No, the writers’ strike isn’t over.
Members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) have been marching outside of buildings owned by Netflix, Warner Bros., Paramount, and other major players in the entertainment industry in hubs like Los Angeles and New York City for three months now after the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) failed to address serious concerns in new contract negotiations with the union.
Productions that allegedly already had scripts locked got the green light to continue. Then most of that came screeching to a halt in mid-July when the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) came to an impasse in their own negotiations with the AMPTP. This marks the first time both unions have been on strike at the same time since 1960.
Writers’ Strike 2023 Update: 9/25/23
After a weekend of deliberations, the WGA announced on Sunday night that they have come to a tentative agreement with the AMPTP, signaling that the end of the writers’ strike is likely near.
The good news arrived 146 days after the strike began, and may at least partly be attributed to Bob Iger (Disney), Donna Langley (NBCUniversal), Ted Sarandos (Netflix), and David Zaslav (Warner Bros. Discovery) coming to the table during the most recent round of talks, following months of the AMPTP negotiators failing to sincerely address many of the WGA’s concerns.
Details on the terms of the tentative agreement are currently under wraps as the two sides continue to meet to hash out the specific language to be used in the contract. After that, it will be voted on by the Negotiating Committee and sent to the WGAW Board and the WGAE Council for approval; assuming all goes well, it will eventually be presented to the WGA membership for ratification.
“We can say, with great pride, that this deal is exceptional,” the committee wrote in an email to members, “with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership.”
For the time being, writers are still striking, although picketing is on hold until the guild announces next steps. Should the proposed contract go to the WGA membership for ratification, the writers’ strike could officially end during that time, or leadership may decide to wait until the contract is officially approved.
There is no word yet on when the AMPTP will resume negotiations with SAG-AFTRA, but it is expected they will start up shortly after things come to a close with the WGA. Actors have currently been on strike for 74 days and will continue to picket, with WGA members encouraged to join them in a show of solidarity.
Writers’ Strike 2023 Update: 8/23/23
On Wednesday, The AMPTP released a six-page document detailing their counteroffer to the WGA, which includes some wage increases, AI protections (that fall short of WGA’s demands), and a promise to share streaming viewership data confidentially with the guild.
“Our priority is to end the strike so that valued members of the creative community can return to what they do best and to end the hardships that so many people and businesses that service the industry are experiencing,” said AMPTP President Carol Lombardini in a news release. “We have come to the table with an offer that meets the priority concerns the writers have expressed. We are deeply committed to ending the strike and are hopeful that the WGA will work toward the same resolution.”
The WGA Negotiating Committee rejected the AMPTP’s counteroffer in a harsh statement on the strike website questioning the group’s motives during negotiations.
“We accepted that invitation and, in good faith, met tonight, in hopes that the companies were serious about getting the industry back to work. Instead, on the 113th day of the strike—and while SAG-AFTRA is walking the picket lines by our side—we were met with a lecture about how good their single and only counteroffer was,” the WGA Negotiating Committee wrote.
“[T]his wasn’t a meeting to make a deal. This was a meeting to get us to cave, which is why, not twenty minutes after we left the meeting, the AMPTP released its summary of their proposals,” they continued. “This was the companies’ plan from the beginning—not to bargain, but to jam us. It is their only strategy—to bet that we will turn on each other.”
The WGA is demanding the AMPTP address all of the writers’ demands in a way that doesn’t provide loopholes that could be exploited later.
“We told them that a strike has a price, and that price is an answer to all—and not just some—of the problems they have created in the business.”
So far, the WGA strike has gone on for 113 days, 40 days shy of the longest WGA strike on record in 1988.
Why Are Writers and Actors On Strike?
WGA and SAG-AFTRA each have a number of concerns that only affect their individual membership. However, two of the key issues in each fight are the same—artificial intelligence and streaming residuals.
“The entire business model has been changed by streaming, digital, AI,” SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher said in a fiery speech the day the actors went on strike. “This is a moment of history that is a moment of truth. If we don’t stand tall right now, we are all…going to be in jeopardy of being replaced by machines and big business who cares more about Wall Street than you and your family.”
The concerns from both unions over AI run deep. Actors want protection over their likenesses, so studios can’t replicate them without compensation or permission for future performances. Writers don’t want their existing works training the technology to spit out new scripts. Negotiations to address these issues, as well as others, hit a brick wall as the unions claim the AMPTP offered meetings to discuss the technology at future dates. But by then it will likely be too late, with countless jobs lost and the industry reshaped forever.
Meanwhile, streaming has already changed the landscape. Residuals used to give the creatives behind popular movies and TV a way to share in any success. But without reruns or DVD sales, those incentives have largely disappeared for anyone working in streaming. The formula has been swapped out for something static. That means that while hit shows like Stranger Things and Orange is the New Black might draw in countless new subscribers for Netflix, the financial spoils go to only the suits and investors.
Both unions have other issues they want the AMPTP to address and insist that the majority of concerns revolve around maintaining the middle class, ensuring fair wages, and safe working conditions. They also want an environment where entertainment can thrive because the people actually making it aren’t struggling to pay rent.
How Long Did The Last Writers’ Strike Last?
The WGA last went on strike back in 2007. It lasted for 100 days, and NPR estimated it cost the Los Angeles economy $1.5 billion.
That strike revolved around DVD residuals and the union wanting jurisdiction over new media—what we know today as streaming. Back then, the internet landscape looked very different. Also, no one was making original content that rivaled that of broadcast or cable television. When that changed, streamers had to hire union writers as a result of the deal that finally ended the strike.
How Long Will The Writers’ Strike Last?
Both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA have been forthright about their willingness to return to the negotiating table whenever the AMPTP is willing. How long the AMPTP holds out depends partly on how much existing content they have in the pipeline. Streamers likely have more flexibility in this regard than broadcast and cable networks, although with many companies owning multiple types of platforms (e.g. the Walt Disney Company having Disney+, ABC, and Freeform), we can expect to see shows initially made exclusively for streaming have their proper television debut to fill in the gaps.
SAG-AFTRA’s requirement that its membership not promote projects benefiting members of the AMPTP while there is no new contract in place has also prompted studios to push big film releases to later dates. It’s unclear how this will help them in the meantime, particularly as critics of the decision have suggested it’s a woefully misguided failure to capitalize on the “Barbenheimer” frenzy and draw moviegoers back to theaters.
The streamers and traditional studios are facing different challenges as a result of the strikes. That means they likely have different sticking points in the negotiations. This has prompted theories that the members of the AMPTP may end up splitting off and agreeing to terms as separate entities rather than a united front. In this scenario, development and production could start cranking up again for some companies sooner rather than later. But for the time being, there’s no visible movement—and don’t expect the unions to back down.
“We didn’t want to have to exercise our power, but now we have to,” WGA West president Meredith Stiehm said. “Our members are feeling like they’re [facing] an existential threat to their very existence as writers.”
Negotiating committee co-chair David Goodman added that “the members have never been more united.” The strike authorization vote back in April—a whopping 97.85% in favor—underscores the sentiment. Similarly, 97.91% of SAG-AFTRA members who voted supported going on strike if the AMPTP didn’t address their concerns.
“The jig is up, AMPTP,” Drescher said. “We stand tall. You have to wake up and smell the coffee. We are labor and we stand tall and we demand respect and to be honored for our contribution. You share the wealth because you cannot exist without us.”