As the Writers Guild of America heads for a possible strike, their fellow entertainment unions have been quick to issue declarations of inter-union solidarity. The national board of the SAG-AFTRA proclaimed it was “strong support” for the industry’s writers, while the Teamsters made a fervent statement that the WGA’s struggle is a “shared struggle”. The Directors Guild of America and IATSE called on the studios and streamers to make a deal with the writers and one of its Locals even sent treats to the WGA negotiating committee of beloved SoCal bakery slash institution Porto’s.
But what choices do members of other entertainment unions have when faced with an actual picketline of writers for a workplace? In the labor movement, observing (in other words, not crossing) a picket line means “honoring the sense of dignity and collectivity and power of the workers (on strike),” explains history professor Nelson Lichtenstein, who teaches the University of South -California runs Santa Barbara’s Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy. Therefore, crossing a picket line is “a sin in the House of Labor”.
All the major entertainment unions’ contracts contain “no-strike” clauses that – while each has a different language – prevent working-class groups from taking part in a work stoppage in the course of their respective agreements. Yet workers individually have the right to participate in “sympathy strikes,” including when they respect a picket line formed by a union that is not their own. Of course, this can expose employees to the consequences: while legal sources have been investigated by The Hollywood Reporter disagree as to whether a breach of contract claim can or could be made against an entertainment worker as a result of participating in a compassionate strike, they agree that participation may provide those individuals with temporary or permanent replacements on the job, depending on the situation .
Entertainment unions have begun advising members on their rights and obligations. Here’s how they suggest workers react when faced with the dilemma of a potential picketline, if the WGA goes on strike after their contract expires Monday night:
The Directors Guild of America: DGA President Lesli Linka Glatter and National Executive Director Russell Hollander told members in an April 18 guidance note that no one can force them to work in the event of a WGA strike. However, there may be consequences if they fail to perform previously agreed services: “If you as an individual refuse to cross a picket line and perform your DGA covered services then your employer has the right to replace you; if you have a personal services agreement, you could be subject to breach of contract claims,” said Glatter and Hollander. The Guild itself must contractually assure employers that “our members will continue to perform DGA-covered services for the term of the Base Agreement,” they added.
IATSE: In a communication to US IATSE members on April 28, Matthew Loeb, the international president of the crew union, noted that many of its key agreements (including the Basic Agreement, which covers more than 40,000 West Coast members, and the Pact of USA 829) do not “expressly prohibit employees from honoring lawful picket lines” and therefore employees “reserve their right to honor a lawful picket line.” Others (such as the Area Standards Agreement, which cover about 20,000 workers outside of Los Angeles and New York, and many New York Local agreements) “expressly” allow workers to honor lawful picket lines. The caveat? Employers can “temporarily replace” employees who decide not to cross those picket lines. They can only terminate their employment if there are “compelling business reasons” unrelated to the employees’ picket line decision, Loeb argued.
SAG-AFTRA: The artists association advised members on April 30 to “keep working” on projects that remain in production during a potential WGA strike. If an artist decides not to report for work they previously committed to, the union continued, “you could be subject to breach of contract claims or fired by the producer.” The union cited its “non-strike clause” and employees’ personal service contracts as reasons for this advice. To support writers, SAG-AFTRA advised members to walk picket lines or post on social media during non-working hours (such as lunch breaks). The union also advised members not to do WGA-covered writing during the strike: “You can’t write anything that would normally be written by striking WGA writers,” the guild said.
The Teamsters Local 399: The Los Angeles Local has repeatedly told members that “Teamsters don’t cross picket lines.” In an opinion sent to members on May 1, the union specified that if the WGA goes on strike, Local 399 members may not join a picket line and must report to work if there is no picket line when they arrive at their workplace. However, if there is a physical line, “you are protected if you choose NOT to cross an active WGA picket line,” the union told members, due to a provision in many Teamsters contracts that protects employees from discipline when they respect such a line.