When I started TV Calling nine years ago, we were at the end of the great writers’ strike of 2007-2008.
(For you young whippersnappers who barely remember it, or if you’re just masochistically nostalgic, check out this documentary about the writers’ strike called “Pencils Down! The 100 Days of the Writers Guild Strike“)
Time is a flat circle, which means the WGA is deep in renegotiations with the AMPTP, which means the AMPTP isn’t very forthcoming, which means a strike authorization vote is looming.
What’s all this, then?
First, let’s talk about the demands.
There’s been a lot of misinformation (especially in the trades) these past few weeks, specifically regarding the WGA’s goodwill. Here’s the gist of the writing issues:
TV writers are getting paid less due to fewer episodes, shorter seasons, exclusivity clauses, and longer amortization; all while healthcare plans are potentially about to be rolled back.
But on the plus side, Peak TV!
In a contract bulletin, the WGA went over the five critical reasons why the average TV writer is seeing their income go down:
1) The number of episodes, and therefore, episode fees are half the traditional number on many series.
2) These fewer episode fees are being amortized across more than two weeks per episode.
3) Writers are held exclusive and under option even when not working on these short season series.
4) Residuals are too low in the emerging rerun markets.
5) Script fees remain unequal to the network rates for the growing areas of the industry.
Despite the huge increase in TV content, median earnings from 2013-2014 to 2015-2016 have dropped 25% for co-producers and above.
And the even more painful rub is the aforementioned exclusivity option, which forces writers to forgo other work until their current show returns (spoiler alert: it may not be renewed or picked up).
Less money + shorter periods of work = unhappy campers
Oh, and that’s not even bringing up the health plan issues.
Health costs are expected to grow 10% per year overall while contributions based on writer earnings are only expected to grow 3% per year. If nothing changes, the plan could end up broke by 2021 (!).
And since deficits have been funded by reserves (themselves funded by employer contributions — which have also been lower for writers than directors), the potential rollbacks by the AMPTP aren’t looking so nice.
The Guild is clear:
In this negotiation, we don’t seek a better health plan, only a solvent one.
To put it in piggy-bank terms, the total WGA ask for these issues is one-third of one percent of last year’s gross profits from the AMPTP’s top dogs. Profits, not revenues. That’s 33¢ to their net $100.
The WGA’s ask from the big six multi-billion dollar media corporations is estimated around $117 million a year. Their CEOs alone made $308+ million in 2016.
For more perspective on this drop in the ocean, follow the aptly-named WGA Perspective on Twitter.
So, those are the broad WGA asks.
But what about the negotiations themselves?
A few informative (as opposed to misinformative) resources have covered them:
– The WGA’s 3rd/Fairfax podcast did an extremely useful podcast regarding the 2017 contract negotiations, featuring a conversation between co-chairs of the WGA Negotiating Committee, Billy Ray, Chip Johannessen, Chris Keyser, and Negotiating Committee member Kate Erickson.
– For an even more basic intro to the situation, Amy Berg posted on Medium a FAQ about the WGA contract talks. It’s been a couple of weeks so it’s not breaking-news-updated but it covers a lot of the important talking points.
Where we stand today:
The WGA and the AMPTP have agreed to a brief recess in the negotiations until April 25. (The guilds’ current contract expire at midnight May 1.)
Which brings us to what’s going to be happening between now and then.
This week is the strike authorization vote.
It’s a leverage tool. It doesn’t meant there’s a strike. But voting YES is crucial.
As Amy Berg put it:
I received an email from the Guild about a strike authorization vote. What does that mean? Are we going on strike?
No. An authorization vote does not mean there’s going to be a strike nor does it lend itself to one. […] All a “yes” vote does is empower our leadership at the negotiating table with the threat of a strike. Voting “yes” does not mean you want a strike. No one wants a strike. Strikes suck.
If you’re curious why voting YES is vital, the Guild sent out this nice video with writers explaining the importance of saying yes to the strike authorization vote.
It features Eric Wallace, Matthew Weiner, Luvh Rakhe, Kate Erickson, Zoanne Clack, Glen Mazzara, Aaron Mendelsohn, Meredith Stiehm, and Carleton Eastlake.
Still thinking of voting “no” because strikes suck?
David Slack came to Twitter to explain how a “no” vote could actually lead to a strike.
TL;DR: Vote YES.
Current active WGAW/WGAE members who have earned at least $33,701.25 under the MBA during the last six years and/or have at least 15 qualified pension years are eligible to vote.
The member meetings are happening on Tuesday and Wednesday in LA and NY. More info on them at the WGA’s strike authorization page.
The strike authorization vote begins in person today (Tuesday, April 18), and online at 8:30PM tomorrow (Wednesday, April 19). Vote ends Monday, April 24 at 12:00PM (all times PDT).
And if you’re wondering about my thoughts in all of this, they’re straightforward:
I stand with the WGA.
Or to put it in profile picture terms…