The Writers Guild of America is out on strike. After six weeks of negotiations with Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Discovery-Warner, NBC Universal, Paramount, and Sony (under the umbrella of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers), members of the strongest writer’s union in the land collectively walked off the job.
It sounds like a glamorous job—writing for TV or film. For a select few, it is, and it’s lucrative. Meanwhile, most screenwriters in Hollywood, like writers everywhere, scrape by. Same as it ever was.
Let’s examine some of the numbers. Looking back to 2013-’14 and 2015-’16, writers saw their median earnings drop sizably. The average wage depression for writers was 25 percent, according to a 2017 article from Vox. By contrast, in 2016, the six biggest studios that belong to the AMPTP reported $51 billion in operating profits, double their profits from 10 years ago (the last time the WGA went on strike in 2007).
Stop devaluing the profession of writing
According to Deadline, WGA issued this strong statement earlier this week about their new labor action:
The companies’ behavior has created a gig economy inside a union workforce, and their immovable stance in this negotiation has betrayed a commitment to further devaluing the profession of writing. 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. No such deal could ever be contemplated by this membership.
What makes this strike notable, according to labor reporter Hamilton Nolan, is that the WGA is one of a relatively small number of unions in America that actually has power at an industrial scale.
In a piece published today in The Guardian, Nolan effectively argues that this battle is a fight for all workers’ rights in today’s digitally dominant workplace, not just screenwriters.
The WGA is asking for contract language that ensures that AI is used only as a tool, and not as a full-on replacement for human writers. The fact that the studios haven’t agreed to that is a tell–a dark indication of corporate America’s barely concealed enthusiasm for the idea of maximizing the use of algorithms in their ongoing quest to push labor costs down to zero…the contract that the writers are striking for could set a powerful precedent that AI must work for people, rather than being used to marginalize people in order to juice profits.
“Maximizing the use of algorithms.” Damn. He said that right.
The Strike’s Immediate Impact
Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, and Late Night With Seth Meyers have already halted production and will air re-runs.
The timing of a fall TV season will depend on how long the strike lasts.
Previously on Adpulp.com: Media and Marketing Workers Enlist the Help of Labor Unions