The parking garage at the Sheraton Universal was filled with Hondas and Toyotas Tuesday night as WGA members gathered for a meeting to kick off a vote on whether to authorize a work stoppage. The meeting is the first of three set to take place this week in the Los Angeles area and New York.
Voting on a strike authorization started at 7:30 p.m. PT, shortly after the meeting began.
“Yeah, definitely,” one guild member said after the meeting when asked whether the majority of attendees appeared to be voting yes on a strike authorization. The writer described long lines of members waiting to cast their ballots at the meeting, which was closed to the public.
But that same member cautioned against reading too much into the room’s atmosphere. “The thing will be decided online,” the writer said, referring to online voting set to begin Wednesday.
“It was a joyous affair,” another guild member told Variety leaving the meeting Tuesday night. Many flashed thumbs up. “Go union,” another shouted.
“If we don’t authorize a strike, we’re in a terrible position,” one writer was overheard saying. Another described a capacity and lively crowd inside the ballroom, which seated 900 people. Attendees began to trickle out of the room at 8:30 p.m., as the question-and-answer portion of the meeting began, after guild leaders laid out the key negotiating points.
One veteran showrunner said there was a strong sense of solidarity in the room. At the same time, the WGA negotiating committee members who led the meeting — Chip Johannessen, Chris Keyser and Billy Ray — left the impression that the contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers remain a “professional” process. The hope is that the sides can reach an agreement at the bargaining table next week and avoid a work stoppage.
One writer described the meeting as having gone “as expected” save a few off-the-wall moments in the Q&A session — such as when one member suggested that the guild save money by ending publication of its magazine, Written By.
Prior to the start of the meeting, writers gathered in clumps in the bar a floor above the ballroom. Downstairs, they loaded up on burgers, fruit salad, and coffee provided by the guild. Some members could be overheard wondering whether it was OK to bring drinks from the bar inside the meeting. It was.
One writer, before the meeting began, characterized guild members who were active at the time of the 2007-08 writers’ strike as being most wary of a possible work stoppage, and newer guild members as advocating a more aggressive stance. The wealthiest and most successful members, the writer added, “are the ones complaining the most about not getting paid enough.”
Another member volunteering to assist with vote organization predicted that a strike authorization would pass, but perhaps not with the turnout necessary to send a strong message to studio negotiators across the table. “We may get 90% [of the vote], but like 12 writers voting,” the member joked.
Prior to the meeting’s start, guild staff could be seen carrying in the boxes into which attendees would cast the first ballots of the authorization vote.
Online voting for WGA West members was set to begin at 8:30 a.m. PT on Wednesday, then close temporarily at 8:30 p.m. PT for another meeting in Beverly Hills, where members would be encouraged to vote in person. Guild members would then be able to vote online until noon PT Monday.
The membership meetings will feature WGA leaders and members of the negotiating committee discussing the state of the contract talks, the state of the industry, and rallying support for the strike authorization vote.
On Monday, the WGA and the AMPTP suspended talks on a new labor agreement, scheduling them to resume April 25, the day after the strike-authorization vote ends. Negotiations between the WGA and the major studios began March 13 and lasted nearly two weeks, then resumed April 10.
The AMPTP had in December set a deal with the DGA that was expected to serve as a template for the current round of guild talks. But the WGA has brought several writer-specific issues to the table that were not relevant in negotiations with the directors’ guild, setting up a more challenging negotiation.
The AMPTP must is also facing a June 30 deadline to work out a performers’ contract with SAG-AFTRA. Those talks are set to follow the WGA negotiation.