On Monday night, the television and film writers’ union the Writers Guild of America distributed ballots for an upcoming strike authorization vote to members. The move is the latest development in a weeks-long labor dispute with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the bargaining unit that represents major studios, over a new three-year union agreement, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The vote will take place between April 19th and April 24th.
The Writers’ Guild announced its interest in striking in late March, when its negotiating committee sent an email to members announcing that it was recommending a strike authorization vote to the Guild’s governing board (within a week, the board announced the vote).Disagreement between the union and the studios centers on the union health-care plan and wage increases for young writers. The studios have reportedly proposed a plan to make the health-care fund soluble through increased premiums and wages diverted from writers, while the WGA has pushed for robust wage increases alongside a fully funded health-care plan.
A vote in favor of strike authorization would not ensure a strike, but give the union leaders the ability to call for a strike if next week’s resumed talks with the studios do not resolve satisfactorily. Some in the industry have speculated that the union has intentionally overreached with its demands in order to push a strike authorization vote.
Why agitate for higher wages now? Despite a flourishing era of TV, shorter series and fewer reruns have cut into writers’ pay and lengthened periods of temporary unemployment for writers between seasons. According to THR, the number of American TV series increased by almost 50 percent from 2011–12 and 2014–15, but the average number of episodes per season dropped from 18.8 to 13.2, leading to a decline in writers’ wages.
Additionally, the WGA health-care plan has run deficits for the past two years, leading to concerns that the $56 million deficit will be closed with money that would otherwise bolster writers’ increasingly meager pay.
The WGA’s last strike, which took placein2007 and 2008, is largely seen as a victory for Hollywood’s scribes. It resulted in writers being included in payments stemming from digital distribution, even if it is estimated to have cost California’s economy over $2 billion. Previous writers’ strikes have occurred in 1960, 1981, 1985, and 1988.