The Writers Guild takes the first step towards a possible strike in the industry.
The union has issued a strike authorization, with polls opening April 11 and closing April 17, the guild announced to members on Monday. While a strike approval vote does not guarantee that a writers’ strike will occur, it does measure the willingness of members to stop working if the union deems a strike necessary. If a high proportion of members support a possible strike, it could improve writers’ influence in their ongoing conversations with the studios and streamers.
In a statement shared on social media, the Writers Guild of America West stated, “The studios must respond to the crisis facing writers. WGA members must demonstrate our willingness to fight for the contract writers they need and deserve by supporting a strike authorization vote.” Consistent with the guild’s coverage in this round of talks that the stakes are existential for writers, the union further asserted that “the survival of our profession is at stake” because “over the past decade, the companies have embraced business practices that reduced our fees”. and undermined our working conditions.”
The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which negotiates on behalf of studios, for comment.
A strike cannot begin until the writers’ contract with the studios and streamers expires on May 1. The WGA has gone on strike six times in its history and is widely regarded as the union most willing to participate in negotiations with employers. As such, rumors have been swirling in the industry for months that due to the big changes writers are looking to make this year, they will hit this spring.
In an interview with THR prior to negotiations, chief negotiator Ellen Stutzman responded to the widespread speculation by saying, “We’re going to negotiate with the goal of getting a deal done, and it has to be a deal that addresses writers’ issues.” She added: “This is a union that is ready to take action when necessary.”
The last writers’ strike took place in 2007-2008 amid a heated battle with studios over “new media” (which then meant distribution via the Internet, iPods and mobile phones). The work stoppage lasted 100 days and cost the California economy an estimated $2.1 billion, according to the Milken Institute, and took a toll on writers’ fees, overall deals and industry relations. At the same time, many writers believe it was a pivotal battle that gave WGA members an early foothold on “new media” platforms, which later came to involve contractual streaming video on demand (SVOD).
Whether this year’s negotiations will lead to such an impasse remains unclear. Employers and employees started negotiations on March 20. This new development could speed up the conversation when both sides reconvene for joint talks.