The Writer’s Guild of America’s (WGA) first strike in 15 years began this week. The Writers Guild of America, which represents 11,500 writers of film, television and other entertainment forms, was in contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers for six weeks before announcing their strike, which started at 12:01 a.m. PT on Tuesday.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers represents major studios such as Disney, Netflix and Paramount. The last strike, the 2007-08 Writers Guild of America work stoppage, went on for 100 days, at an estimated cost of around $2 billion to the industry.
Here's a breakdown of what’s at stake in the strike, per Deadline:
- At Issue: Compensation for writers in a changing media landscape
- Jobs At Stake: 822,000 direct employees; 2.4M total supported in 2021
- Industry Wages: $81B direct; $186B total supported
- The Market: $261B in sales
- AMPTP Membership: 350-plus TV and film production companies
Writers' earnings leads to strike
It’s becoming harder for writers to earn a sustainable income in the streaming era. Although show budgets have gone up, the writer's share of that money has continued to shrink. Therefore, the main issue in negotiations between the WGA and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers was to achieve fair pay that reflects the guild’s contribution to company success and ensures that writing survives as a sustainable profession.
“Over the course of the negotiation, we explained how the companies' business practices have slashed our compensation and residuals and undermined our working conditions,” claims the WGA. “The companies have leveraged the streaming transition to underpay writers, creating more precarious, lower-paid models for writers’ work. Our 2023 negotiations must significantly address writer compensation.”
Compensation, according to Variety, looks like this for staff writers, the lowest-level writers:
- Median staff writer on network show works 29 weeks for $131,834 salary
- Median staff writer on streaming show works 20 weeks for $90,920
- Do not get script fees
How inflation plays into the writers' strike
Inflation has been an issue across the economy, and these writers are feeling it without seeing increases in their earnings.
According to Variety, contract minimums last updated in 2020 provide annual increases in weekly minimums of 1.5%, 2.5% and 2.25%, which obviously does not reach the massive inflation numbers the country has seen recently. With those increases not reaching actual inflation's levels, writers are effectively seeing pay cuts, the trade publication says.
"The staff writer’s weekly minimum — $4,546 — would likewise need to rise 10% to equal the minimum in 2019-20 in inflation-adjusted terms," Variety reported in March.
After adjusting for inflation, median weekly writer-producer pay has declined 23% over the last decade, according to the Associated Press, and more writers work at minimum basic agreement now than a decade ago.
In addition, the lack of a regular seasonal calendar and shorter work periods on streaming shows means writers are earning less than before. Because of this, the guild is calling for a TV staffing minimum, as well as a guaranteed minimum number of weeks of employment per season to combat the AMPTP’s efforts to make a “gig economy” out of the workforce.
“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," states the WGA.
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