Writers Guild of America members gathered on both coasts Wednesday evening for meetings to discuss the state of the contract negotiations with the major studios and show support for the guild’s strike authorization vote.
A strike woud be the first in a decade for the union. The West Coast gathering evoked strong support for the strike authorization and the need to pursue economic improvements in the master contract. One veteran member said the meeting at the Beverly Hills Hilton was notable in its contrast with a member meeting several months ago, when several speakers expressed skepticism about a strike.
“Tonight, there was consistent support for the negotiators,” he said. “Even the most negative speaker said that even though he had been screwed over by the strike 10 years ago, he was ready to go on strike again.”
Another writer said there appeared to be near-unanimous support at the event for a “yes” vote, adding, “It was super strong. No dissent, literally. Few questions, mostly support speeches.”
“We went over what’s left,” she said. “And it’s all beyond reasonable. Let’s just say if they can’t find common ground, it’s not on the writers. And that’s an honest opinion, not a biased one.”
The writer also said she believes that a strike authorization is necessary, adding, “As much as I have not wanted it, I am now fully behind it if they won’t compromise, because what’s being asked for is bare minimum fair.”
The New York gathering, held at the 18th Street offices of the 32 BJ SEIU union, drew an estimated 250 or so members. Notables in attendance included “Gilmore Girls” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and exec producer Dan Palladino and “Tonight Show” announcer Steve Higgins.
WGA East president Michael Winship and WGAE executive director Lowell Peterson were on hand for what was described as a positive meeting with plenty of engagement about the issues on the table. Members were scrupulous about adhering to the guild’s policy of maintaining a media blackout while negotiations are ongoing. The guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are on a break in bargaining until April 25, the day after the guild tallies the strike authorization vote. The sides are facing a May 1 deadline to cut a deal.
Wednesday’s meetings follow the WGA West’s first strike authorization gathering on Tuesday night at the Universal Sheraton, which drew an estimated 1,000 members.
“This is my first time in a strike situation so it’s important for me to be here,” one member said while entering the meeting at the Hilton. At least 500 members were on hand.
WGA West President Howard Rodman was on the podium and spoke briefly. Most of the two-hour session was devoted to members expressing solidarity with the guild leadership.
Attendees at the Hilton ballroom were heard cheering repeatedly during the session, which started shortly after 7 p.m. and was open only to members and staff. Some members departed before 8 p.m.
Online voting for WGA members began at 8:30 p.m. PT on Wednesday. Guild members can vote online until noon PT on April 24.
The two sides have held about three weeks of negotiations, starting on March 13. The WGA announced on April 5 to media buyers that a strike could have a significant impact on primetime programming for the 2017-2018 television season. It also said the work stoppage could start as early as May 2, after the current three-year master contract has expired.
Leaders of the WGA have been urging the guild’s 12,000 members to support the strike authorization, asserting that doing so will give negotiators the maximum leverage at the bargaining table. Should negotiators be making progress after talks resume, both sides could agree to extend the current contract.
The guild is asking for raises in minimums and script fees in an effort to offset changes in the nature of TV series production that have hit writers’ earnings. It’s pushing for parity for the payment structures for those working on shows for cable and SVOD outlets, where fees remain lower than those for traditional broadcast network TV, along with an increase in employer contributions to the guild’s health plan, which has been operating at a deficit.
The WGA last struck for 100 days between Nov. 5, 2007, and Feb. 12, 2008.
Daniel Holloway contributed to this report