Writers Guild East Names Sam Wheeler as Executive Director

The Writers Guild of America East has named Sam Wheeler executive director after its previous staff leader announced his departure last fall.

Wheeler, currently the national executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists, will start at the writers’ union on April 1. The union’s council announced the hire on Monday, saying that Wheeler’s appointment came after a “months-long search.”

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“I am honored to join the WGAE as Executive Director,” Wheeler said in a statement. “I want to thank President Cullen, the Officers, and the Council for placing their trust in me. WGAE members have built a dynamic, member-led, fighting union and I am thrilled to be part of the work ahead.

Wheeler has held his current leadership position at the AGMA, which represents staging staffers, singers and dancers in the fields of opera, ballet and choral performance, since 2022. He joined the union originally in 2019 as its eastern counsel, where he fronted its negotiations with the Metropolitan Opera, the Boston Ballet, the American Ballet Theatre, the Pittsburgh Opera and other arts employers. He also helped push forward a constitutional referendum at the union in 2020, with the goal of updating the document and improving some of its language.

Before his work at the AGMA, Wheeler was a labor lawyer at Cohen, Weiss and Simon LLP, working on behalf of unions in contract negotiations, litigation and other matters. He also worked in the office of the general counsel at teachers’ union the National Education Association and the United Steelworkers, where he was a 2014 Peggy Browning fellow. He graduated from Harvard Law School and the College of William and Mary.

Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, the president of the WGA East, said that the union believed it had found a “transformative leader” in Wheeler. “His clear strategic vision impressed our Search Committee and Council, as did his reputation for working closely with members and staff, leading tough negotiations and diligently administering collective bargaining agreements,” she said. “We have full confidence he will serve the diverse interests of the Guild’s 7,500 members.”

The union’s previous executive director, Lowell Peterson, departed the union after 15 years when his deal expired on Nov. 15, 2023. During his tenure, the labor group mounted major organizing campaigns at digital media, podcasting and nonfiction production companies, transforming and doubling the membership of the union.

Wheeler arrives at the WGA East on the heels of the Writers Guild of America’s 148-day strike in 2023, at a moment of industry contraction and uncertainty. He will be one half of a new era of staff leadership at the writers’ union: His West Coast counterpart, Ellen Stutzman, was promoted to the role of executive director at the WGA West in November after previous leader David Young stepped down following 18 years at the helm.

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