clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Hollywood writers strike after studios fail to negotiate low pay, AI use

‘The companies’ behavior has caused a gig economy inside a union workforce’

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Writers Guild of America members and supporters picket in front of NBC studios. The sun is coming up over a building highlighting only a picket sign.
Writers Guild of America members picketing in front of NBC studios in 2008
Photo: David McNew/Getty Images
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

The Writers Guild of America, which represents thousands of TV and movie writers, is on strike after six weeks of failed negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Negotiations ended Monday night without an agreement before WGA leadership made the call to strike. Earlier in April, 97.8% of WGA members voted yes in a strike authorization vote.

Without writers, production will likely halt on in-development TV and movies. Nighttime talk shows like The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and Jimmy Kimmel Live! will go offline without writers. Deadline reported that reruns will be played in lieu of new episodes.

The companies represented by AMPTP — Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, NBCUniversal, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, and hundreds of others — have “created a gig economy inside a union workforce,” WGA said in a news release. “They have closed the door on their labor force and opened the door to writing as an entirely freelance profession. No such deal could ever be contemplated by this membership.”

WGA released a document outlining its proposals and AMPTP’s responses regarding an increase in pay and residuals, stable writers rooms, improved health coverage, and regulation on the use of artificial intelligence. Tentative agreements were reached on several proposals, but AMPTP rejected others and refused to counter on a number of key items, like weekly pay, preserving writers rooms, viewership-based streaming residuals, and AI regulation, according to the WGA.

You can read the full document below.

WGA Negotiations — Status as of May 1, 2023 by Polygondotcom on Scribd

“We have proposals that would prevent the studios from eliminating the writers room; they refused to discuss them,” comedian Adam Conover wrote on Twitter. “We have proposals to protect screenwriters from free work, that would have *COST THEM NOTHING TO IMPLEMENT*: They rejected them and offered an ‘educational meeting.’”

He continued: “We proposed that comedy/variety and daytime writers on streaming have the same pay and protections as they do on TV. Instead, they offered us a minimum that would apply to virtually no shows on the air, oh and also, they want to start paying you by the day.”

The AMPTP said it presented a “comprehensive package proposal” that included “generous increases in compensation for writers as well as improvements in streaming residuals.” Its “primary sticking points” are “mandatory staffing” and “duration of employment,” the AMPTP said in its news release. These are both related to the increased reliance on “mini rooms,” which are scaled-down writers rooms — two or three writers that help a showrunner write a script at a lower rate, often before a show has been greenlit. It’s a practice that’s making writing jobs more precarious and decreasing pay overall, writers say. The WGA’s current proposal is asking for a minimum of six writers in pre-greenlight rooms, with a minimum for post-greenlight writers rooms, too. Regarding the duration of employment, pre-greenlight rooms would give writers at least 10 weeks of consecutive work, with other minimums, again, for post-greenlight rooms.

WGA and AMPTP negotiate new contracts roughly every three years. The groups last reached an agreement in 2017 shortly after the old contract expired; a strike was averted. WGA writers last went on strike in 2007; that strike lasted 100 days. We can estimate the impact of the strike based on history, but it won’t be entirely similar this time around. The advent of streaming means platforms like Netflix bank series in advance, meaning we won’t necessarily see an impact there for a while. However, the strike will personally and economically impact the individual writers and other production staff now out of work. No one wants a strike, but writers feel it’s important nonetheless to push back on studio leadership.

As WGA and AMPTP work toward a resolution, AMPTP will begin preparing for negotiations with actors represented by the Screen Actors Guild — American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and directors with the Directors Guild of America; both contracts expire in June.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon