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Cultural Capital

112 Days Later, Writers (and Now Actors) Are Still on the Picket Line

As the strike drags on, writers are hopeful that a unified push by labor will bring producers to their senses.

2:07 PM EDT on August 22, 2023

Garen Thomas on the picket line on Tuesday. (Hell Gate)

On Tuesday morning, after 112 days on strike, New York's unionized television and film writers showed few signs of wear while on the picket line, even as they've been forced to scramble to find other work.

Joined by striking SAG-AFTRA actors as well as workers from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and other unions that rely on the entertainment industry, members of the Writers Guild of America were feeling hopeful during a joint picket line in front of the of Amazon and HBO's offices on Manhattan's West Side.

"We've had support from others like I've never seen before," said Garen Thomas, a writer for shows like Starz's "BMF." "Other unions, like the Teamsters, not crossing the picket line was huge for us." 

Thomas said that the pressure put on the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which is negotiating on behalf of the studios, by the dual strikes has at least forced studios back to the negotiating table, as production schedules have ground to a halt. She said she believes the AMPTP was trying to induce a writers strike by refusing to substantively negotiate, but that an industry-wide stoppage "wasn't something they were prepared for."

While spirits were high, with various elected officials and labor leaders making speeches and a brass band belting out union songs, the cold reality of being without a job has set in for many writers, who have fallen back into previous lines of work—including teaching or even, as Thomas has, "selling things online."

A brass band supporting the strike. (Hell Gate)

Early in the writers' strike, a studio head was quoted as saying that the game plan was for the studios to hold off on negotiating "until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses."

That sort of negotiating tactic might not work all that well on a group of people like writers, who are quite used to being broke and having to hustle to make ends meet. As the CITY noted recently, while motion picture and sound recording jobs are down about 7,000 from pre-strike figures, "unemployment claims have not increased since the strike began, probably because many people in the industry already hold other jobs since work is intermittent."

"That type of negotiation makes me feel like this issue is very black and white," said Dylan Guerra, a writer for HBO's "The Other Two." Guerra has been teaching and playwriting during the strike to make ends meet. "We're not in a gray zone here. We're asking for less than one percent of what the industry brings in, so our demands are reasonable. We're just looking to be respected and paid fairly and also treated fairly for our work."

(Hell Gate)

Guerra also noted that AMPTP's efforts to decrease the minimum size of writers' rooms would essentially make writers' rooms less diverse, as well as set up Black and Latine writers to fail at just the moment that they're finally getting a chance to succeed in the business.

"It's cutting out the staff writer and story editor position while we have an influx of queer writers, writers of color, women writers who are getting taken seriously for the first time," Guerra said. "They get their first job, and then it's impossible for them to move up the ladder." 

While AMPTP has not yet resumed negotiations with SAG-AFTRA, which shares many of the same concerns as the WGA over residuals from streaming, the use of artificial intelligence, and healthcare, SAG-AFTRA New York President Ezra Knight believes that by banding their struggles together, entertainment industry workers have created a situation where the AMPTP has been forced to return to the bargaining table. Negotiations for writers have so far led to "mixed results," according to reports. 

"We're part of a larger labor cause," he told Hell Gate. "This negotiation brings up core issues that are so big, like pension, healthcare, wage increases, and technology interfering with the lives of people, just like the Industrial Revolution affected laborers and laborers formed unions."

Knight said that just like during previous technological leaps forward, workers need to respond to maintain safe and equitable labor conditions. "We're at that turning point right now."

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