Picket Lines Commence as Film and TV Writers Strike

The television and movie industry woke up to picket lines on Tuesday morning as thousands of Writers Guild of America members halted work in the first labor strike in 15 years.

The strike was not unexpected. Several weeks ago, union members voted overwhelmingly to approve a work stoppage when the current contract expired on May 1. But the labor dispute comes at a precarious time for an industry that has been rocked by the pandemic and more so by the teetering financial prospects of a streaming business that has yet to realize profitability.

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The studios and the WGA negotiating committee have been at logger heads for the past several weeks. At issue is what WGA representatives characterize as a “gig economy” within the profession. As streaming has come to dominate the scripted market, writers say they have few protections and a paucity of residuals.

“From their refusal to guarantee any level of weekly employment in episodic television, to the creation of a ‘day rate’ in comedy variety, to their stonewalling on free work for screenwriters and on AI for all writers, they have closed the door on their labor force and opened the door to writing as an entirely freelance profession,” the union said in a statement.

The studios, meanwhile, said the current moment — when Wall Street has devalued media companies as streaming losses stack up — does not allow for generous pay increases. Disney last week began laying off 7,000 workers. Vice, once the darling of the new media industry, is reportedly close to filing for bankruptcy protection after failing to find a buyer. And Discovery’s acquisition of Warner Bros. has produced a $50 billion debt load that has spurred layoffs, shuttered productions and shelved titles in favor of write downs.

The studios — NBCUniversal, Sony, Warner Bros. Discovery, Apple, Amazon and Netflix — said in a previous statement that “the long-term health and stability of the industry is our priority.”

The most immediate effect of a strike will be the shuttering of late-night comedy and variety shows, including NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers” and CBS’ “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” which work on a daily schedule and so will go dark immediately. But many scripted shows have finished production for the season and others were banking scripts in anticipation of a strike. The previous strike, in 2007, lasted 100 days.

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