TV and film production on pause as writers' strike continues
LOS ANGELES - Striking members of the Writers Guild of America will be back on the picket lines Thursday as their walkout -- which has halted television and other productions on both coasts -- enters its third day, with no new negotiations known to be scheduled.
Thousands of members of the WGA's West Coast branch were out Wednesday morning at all the major studios around the Los Angeles area, often joined by actors and other union members in solidarity.
Thursday, the strikers are slated to double their time on the picket lines, with a pair of four-hour shifts scheduled instead of the single four-hour shifts that occurred the previous two days. According to the union's website, there will be picket shifts from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 1 to 5 p.m. on Thursday and Friday.
The picketing is being conducted at Amazon's Studio in Culver City, CBS' Studio City lot, Television City, The Walt Disney Co.'s corporate headquarters in Burbank, the Fox Studios lot, Netflix's Hollywood headquarters, Paramount Studios in Hollywood, Sony Studios in Culver City, Universal Studios and Warner Bros. in Burbank.
The union remains at an impasse with Hollywood studios over a host of labor issues -- most notably, residuals for streaming content, staffing levels in writing rooms and the use of artificial intelligence.
Monday night, the WGA's West Coast and East Coast branches announced that contract talks with the studios had broken down. The union walked off the job when its contract expired at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. It's the union's first strike in 15 years.
"Though we negotiated intent on making a fair deal -- and though your strike vote gave us the leverage to make some gains -- the studios' responses to our proposals have been wholly insufficient, given the existential crisis writers are facing," the union wrote in a message to its membership Monday.
The strike is also expected to have a wide-ranging economic ripple effect on thousands of crew members and other behind-the-scenes workers -- as well as impact businesses near studios such as restaurants that typically serve workers.
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Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills on Tuesday, said that, either directly or indirectly, "every single one of us will be impacted by this (strike)."
"We're very concerned about what's going on, because both sides are dug in, and the stakes are high," Newsom said. "I've got to say, I'm sensitive to the concerns of the writers, very, in terms of what streaming's doing, what the next conversation, AI (artificial intelligence), is doing in this space. This is a very real and existential moment."
He said his office has not been involved in the labor talks, but will get involved if asked to do so.
Similarly, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, whose city will likely feel the brunt of the strike's economic fallout, issued a statement that avoided taking sides but urged a resolution.
"Los Angeles relies on a strong entertainment industry that is the envy of the world while putting Angelenos to work in good, middle-class jobs," Bass said. "I encourage all sides to come together around an agreement that protects our signature industry and the families it supports."
Bass said she plans to reach out to both sides, although she has not been actively involved yet. The mayor played a key role in resolving a recent labor dispute between the Los Angeles Unified School District and thousands of its service workers.
The WGA is specifically calling for higher residual pay for streaming programs that have higher viewership, rather than the existing model that pays a standard rate regardless of a show's success.
The union is also calling for industry standards on the number of writers assigned to each show, increases in foreign streaming residuals and regulations preventing the use of artificial intelligence technology to write or rewrite any literary material.
According to the union, its latest contract proposal would net writers roughly $429 million per year, while the studios' latest offer would equate to about $86 million annually.
Studios have pushed back on some union demands, noting that the entire industry is facing budget constraints, and pointing to the thousands of layoffs currently underway at the Walt Disney Co. as a prime example. The studios also say writers' residuals have increased in recent years, powered largely by amounts earned through "new media."
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios, issued a statement Monday saying, "The AMPTP presented a comprehensive package proposal to the guild last night which included generous increases in compensation for writers as well as improvements in streaming residuals."
"The AMPTP also indicated to the WGA that it is prepared to improve that offer, but was unwilling to do so because of the magnitude of other proposals still on the table that the guild continues to insist upon. The primary sticking points are mandatory staffing and duration of employment, guild proposals that would require a company to staff a show with a certain number of writers for a specified period of time, whether needed or not.
"The AMPTP member companies remain united in their desire to reach a deal that is mutually beneficial to writers and the health and longevity of the industry, and to avoid hardship to the thousands of employees who depend upon the industry for their livelihoods. The AMPTP is willing to engage in discussions with the WGA in an effort to break this logjam."
The WGA last week issued what it calls "strike rules," which bar union members from doing any writing for studios being struck, or conducting any negotiations on future writing projects. The rules also direct union members to honor all WGA picket lines, perform assigned "strike-support" duties and inform the union of any "strikebreaking activity."
The WGA last went on strike in 2007-08, remaining off the job for 100 days and grinding Hollywood production to a halt. That strike was precipitated over compensation for what was then termed "new media," with Internet streaming beginning to reshape the entertainment landscape.
Various estimates from different organizations estimated that the 100- day strike cost the local economy between $2 billion and $3 billion.