(Photo courtesy of Chris Chew) “Members of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA picket in Los Angeles.”
On May 2 2023, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) began what would be a lengthy 148 day strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The strike began due to unfair labor practices, with writers expressing their concerns regarding the ever rising popularity in streaming platforms—and how their contracts have not been updated to accommodate these new consumer demands.
Because of the strike, hundreds of television shows, movies and production companies have been forced to bring their projects to an indefinite halt. Some of the more notable programs that have been affected by the WGA strike include “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon”, Netflix’s “Stranger Things”, Showtime’s “YellowJackets”— and many more.
Before the booming growth of streaming platforms, television writers have relied on residual payments. Meaning, that each and every time an episode or film re-airs on television the people who created the material are compensated accordingly. Popular streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hulu and Disney + however operate on monthly subscription payments, where content does not re-air—and rather is available for viewers to watch as they please. While this seems great and innovative for the consumer, this affects screen writers and can significantly decrease their typical annual salary.
About 2 months after the WGA began picketing outside of large corporations like Paramount, ABC, and Warner Brother Studios, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) began to strike as well. Actors protected by SAG-AFTRA expressed similar concerns as the WGA, mainly pointing out that their contracts have not yet taken into consideration the rise in popularity of streaming—and also demanded more residual payments going forward.
These residuals are not the unions only concern. Other issues that these writers and actors are facing include cuts in their wages, significantly shorter working contracts, and expected unpaid work. Additionally, WGA and SAG-AFTRA have begun to express their concerns with production companies’ intended use of AI technology such as ChatGPT when creating television shows and films. Writers fear that this new technology will slowly dwindle the presence of actual screen writers, more than their demand has already decreased in the past decade. These writers and actors have been adamant about their apprehension regarding AI technology being used for production purposes.
Picket lines have begun forming across the country, most notably being located in New York City and Los Angeles. Many famous faces have joined the picket line to stand in solidarity with both WGA and SAG-AFTRA. Among these include Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, filmmaker and actress Olivia Wilde, and Saturday Night Live comedian Pete Davidson.
On Sunday, Sept. 24 the WGA and AMPTP announced that a mutual agreement had been reached. It was just 3 days after this announcement that the WGA officially ended their strike, making it the second longest strike in WGA history—a runner up to the 1988 WGA strike which lasted a total of 154 days. The union is anticipated to begin to ratify this new contract beginning on Monday Oct. 2.
SAG-AFTRA took to social media on Sunday, Sept. 24 to congratulate the WGA after announcing their agreement with the AMPTP. While SAG-AFTRA have not yet reached a tentative agreement themselves, they are scheduled to meet with AMPTP for negotiation on Monday, October 2.