Writers Guild of America members have voted to authorize a strike against Hollywood studios and producers, the guild announced Tuesday in a letter to members obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. A walkout would start May 2, the union has previously said, if a new deal is not in place by then. The current contract expires May 1.
The vote was 96.3 percent in favor, with 6,310 ballots cast, a return rate of 67.5 percent of those eligible. The last Hollywood writers strike, in 2007-08, was authorized by 90.3 percent of 5,607 guild members voting.
"The Companies are committed to reaching a deal at the bargaining table that keeps the industry working," said the studios' bargaining entity, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, in a statement to THR. "The 2007 Writers Strike hurt everyone. Writers lost more than $287 million in compensation that was never recovered, deals were canceled, and many writers took out strike loans to make ends meet."
Referring to the planned resumption of talks Tuesday, the AMPTP added, "We remain focused on our objective of reaching a deal with the WGA at the bargaining table when the Guild returns on April 25."
But achieving a deal in the week remaining with a newly emboldened union will be difficult at best. As of about two weeks ago, the parties were $350 million apart, with the writers looking for a $535 million deal and the studios more inclined to reach an agreement valued in the neighborhood of $180 million. That's a ratio of 3-to-1.
Sources tell THR that since then there has been some movement on both sides, but observers find it difficult to see how a multi-hundred million dollar gap will be bridged prior to contract expiration.
That may be what the path to a strike looks like. The last writers strike cost the economy an estimated $2.1 billion to $2.5 billion. The impact this time would depend on a strike's length, but a job action that persisted for any significant period of time would likely drive viewers away from broadcast and cable scripted reruns to a range of alternatives such as sports, news, reality, internet video, apps and library content on digital services such as Netflix.
Previously, guild president Howard Rodman posted on Facebook, "This authorization is the single best and largest piece of leverage we have to get writers what they need and deserve. Our negotiations are in recess until Tuesday, when the results of the vote are announced. Why? Because the companies don't want to give us a penny they don't have to. It's that simple."