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'We're just at a breaking point': Hollywood writers vote to authorize strike

Hollywood writers have voted to authorize a strike if their talks with The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers don't end in a new three-year contract. The current contract expires just before midnight on May 1. The Writers Guild of America has been at the table with the studios, negotiating over how much they're compensated for working on films, TV shows and streaming series.

"We are the people who create the stuff that the world watches. And yet we're treated as if we are virtually valueless," says the WGA's chief negotiator, Chris Keyser. "Sustaining a writing career has become almost untenable for a large percentage of our members. We're just at a breaking point."

We are the people who create the stuff that the world watches. And yet we're treated as if we are virtually valueless. Sustaining a writing career has become almost untenable for a large percentage of our members.

The WGA is demanding, among other things, an increase in minimum pay, more residual payments from streaming, as well as increased contributions to its health and pension plans.

The strike authorization is seen by both sides as a negotiating tactic.

"A strike authorization vote has always been part of the WGA's plan, announced before the parties even exchanged proposals," the AMPTP said in a statement. "Our goal is, and continues to be, to reach a fair and reasonable agreement."

The last time the union asked members to authorize a work stoppage,in 2017, the two sides successfully negotiated a new contract before the deadline. But in 2007, the writers did go on strike for 100 days, asking to be paid more for their work on movies or shows that were sold as DVDs and internet downloads. Hollywood productions shut down, and the local economy lost an estimated $2.1 billion. The effect on viewers was felt immediately on late night TV shows and other daily productions.

Writers Guild of America members and supporters picket in front of NBC studios ahead of proposed contract in February 2008.
David McNew / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Writers Guild of America members and supporters picket in front of NBC studios ahead of proposed contract in February 2008.

Since then, the film and TV industry has changed. For example, television writers used to be assigned to shows that lasted perhaps 22 episodes each season. Now, seasons on TV and digital platforms may be just eight to 10 episodes long.

Keyser says it's tough for writers in a gig economy. "One out of every four people who runs the television shows that everyone's obsessed with make the lowest amount of money the contract allows," he says. "On top of it, the residuals are insufficient. I've been in meetings the last few weeks where writers talked about the fact that while they're writing the television shows that you and everyone watch, they had to take second jobs in order to make ends meet."

At the same time, companies such as Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, Amazon and Netflix says with profit losses, they've had to lay off thousands of studio employees.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.