What’s Actually at Stake within the Writers’ Strike? WGA’s Chief Negotiator Explains

Ellen Stutzman has labored on the Writers Guild of America (WGA) for 17 years, beginning as a analysis analyst in 2006 and rising by the ranks to assistant government director by 2018. Earlier this 12 months, because the expected-to-be-contentious contract negotiations with the Alliance of Movement Image and Tv Producers (AMPTP)—which represents the massive Hollywood studios, together with Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, NBCUniversal, Paramount, and Sony—have been approaching, the WGA introduced that Stutzman can be taking over a brand new function: chief negotiator.

Whereas these discussions usually occur each three years, this 12 months’s assembly was anticipated as one the place a strike might very nicely occur, with a large hole present between the WGA and the studios on large points together with streaming residuals, the specter of AI getting used to interchange writers in writers’ rooms, and the more and more standard use of “mini rooms,” which rent fewer writers than regular.

In April, 97.85 p.c of WGA members voted to authorize a strike if a suitable settlement couldn’t be reached with the studios by Could 1, when its contract was set to run out. The subsequent day, all 11,500 screenwriters went on strike, which is now in its eighth week. [Editor’s Note: Hearst Magazines is represented by the Writers Guild of America, East.]


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ELLE.com spoke with Stutzman concerning the state of the strike, the place negotiations stand, and what’s at stake for the trade’s future.

ellen stutzman wga

Ellen Stuzman, the WGA’s chief negotiator.

The Related Press

What are the largest sticking factors between the WGA and the studios?

It’s about how writers are going to be employed and share within the worth of the work that they create. What we’ve seen over the previous variety of years is that firms look to squeeze writers to do as a lot work in as little time as potential. It’s grow to be untenable. It’s why writers are out on strike in an trade that makes billions upon billions of revenue annually on the backs of writers. However the studios don’t need to share within the worth. That comes all the way down to, on the tv aspect, how lengthy folks work primarily, how many individuals are there to get the work performed, how lengthy they need to do it, and being concerned all all through the method. And, for screenwriters, it’s about pushing again in opposition to a system the place writers are given one alternative to get their work performed after which pressured to do free work, as a substitute of being paid for one more draft or paid on time. So it’s about there needing to be a elementary reset of how the trade treats writers and permits them to share within the worth of the work they create.

How do you are feeling the dynamics of this strike this 12 months are much like or totally different from writers’ strikes which have occurred previously?

A similarity is that writers go on strike to guard their career and type of future-proof it. They see what’s occurring and the place the enterprise goes, they usually’ve been prepared to strike to ensure that it is a viable career.

That began many years in the past, with writers placing to ensure that there have been pension and well being plans, and residuals in perpetuity, and in 2007, placing to make sure that writers had jurisdiction over the web, which was very prescient, as a result of that’s the place many of the enterprise is.

Now, it’s about saying that this can not grow to be a gig financial system. Which you can’t have simply gig jobs on this very worthwhile trade, the place the work is freelance, however these firms have all the time anticipated to have a steady and accessible workforce. The way in which writers have been paid for a very long time between having good tv jobs or good screenwriting jobs after which good residuals that hold them within the trade by inevitable dry intervals, then they’re round to create the following great point. The businesses have sort of damaged that compact by saying, “Let’s pay folks as little as potential for as little time as potential after which nonetheless anticipate them to be right here to do all of the work.”

culver city, ca may 02 writers guild of america members walk the picket line on the first day of their strike in front of sony pictures on tuesday, may 2, 2023, in culver city, ca jay l clendenin los angeles times via getty images

Writers Guild members stroll the picket line in entrance of Sony Photos on Could 2, 2023, the primary day of the strike.

Jay L. Clendenin

What’s totally different is, I used to be round for the final strike, and the unity and the solidarity from labor throughout the trade, in and out, and many of the trade, apart from the businesses, recognizing that there’s a drawback that must be fastened. The expertise companies all acknowledge that there’s an issue with author pay that has to be addressed in bargaining—that’s not fastened in particular person agent negotiations. It’s very obvious to everybody that there’s an issue and it’s simply unlucky that the businesses determined to place the trade by this disruption fairly than make a good deal.

Do you are feeling like there’s a totally different standard narrative round this strike than others?

Just a little bit, sure. Most likely partly due to social media and writers’ skill to get their message out so broadly, and maybe the organizing of digital information and information retailers across the nation means that there’s a higher understanding of the worth of labor unions, and simply basic labor motion in numerous industries, like Starbucks employees organizing and the latest trainer’s strike in Los Angeles. I believe we’ve gotten to a spot the place folks do perceive the worth of unions and their necessity as a result of, sadly, firms actually don’t do the precise factor on their very own. They don’t share equitably. And that’s how you find yourself in a state of affairs like this, the place a union has to pressure them to.

How does this strike match into the larger labor motion?

What writers are doing now’s so essential, simply by way of labor normally; they’re half of a bigger motion of employees who’re prepared to face as much as their employer and combat for what they deserve. And so they see themselves as part of that.

It’s unlucky that firms might have made an equitable deal earlier than going by the ache that they inflict on themselves…and they’ll finally need to make that deal. Writers will strike till they get the deal they want. That’s type of the story of the labor motion.

It’s about there needing to be a elementary reset of how the trade treats writers and permits them to share within the worth of the work they create.”

What’s it truly prefer to be within the room negotiating? Is it very combative, or is it extra calm than folks would anticipate?

It will get somewhat combative. You go in along with your set of proposals and also you speak to them concerning the significance of your proposals, and also you clarify why they matter and need to be addressed within the negotiation. And the businesses give their response. On this negotiation, we simply needed to maintain to a whole lot of our positions, as a result of they didn’t need to deal with them previous to a strike. There’s not yelling, however writers should not pleased as a result of the businesses haven’t responded appropriately.

How does the truth that public approval of unions is the very best it’s been since 1965 inform the way you method these negotiations?

Writers have been prepared to go on strike in no matter political interval they’re in when it’s vital. It’s definitely useful now to have broad public help, to have President Biden and to have former President Obama converse out in favor of writers and the strike. It’s definitely useful to really feel that broad public help. However in the end, it comes all the way down to how writers really feel about their work, and what they’re prepared to combat for. They’re very dedicated to preventing proper now to make sure that the roles that they return to and the roles that exist sooner or later are good jobs, as they need to be, as a result of that is an extremely worthwhile trade.

writers guild strike 2023, wga strike

Stutzman says the Guild is “on strike in an trade that makes billions upon billions of revenue annually on the backs of writers. However the studios don’t need to share within the worth.”

David McNew

What would carry you again to the negotiating tables with the studios? What would you like from them?

They’ve to acknowledge that the problems which might be on the desk, that are points for screenwriters, for tv writers, for writers of comedy and selection reveals, need to be addressed. These embody how writers are paid, after they’re employed, how lengthy they work, and what their phrases are.

After which the residuals. There clearly must be important enhancements in residuals on streaming providers, which is the place the enterprise goes. Then, in fact, they’re going to need to take care of us on synthetic intelligence. We made clear to them: right here’s the place we’re on the core points, and we anticipate them to take care of us on all these points.

Let me simply say that it could be significant for us. It’s lots of of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} that may assist writers. However for these firms that make billions, it’s a tiny amount of cash.

Logistically, how would a return to negotiations work? Would they only name you or name the WGA and say, “We’re prepared to speak about these points”?

Sure. The AMPTP is aware of find out how to attain us.

The corporate technique has been to attempt to make offers with different unions, as a result of they would favor to not need to make a take care of the Writers Guild, as a result of the Writers Guild is on strike and demanding sure issues, and that’s not going to vary with what writers demand by way of a negotiation. [Editor’s Note: The Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) is currently in negotiations with the studios, and 97.91 percent of its members voted to authorize a strike, which could begin as soon as July 1.] So, the businesses can go forward and negotiate with different unions, however they’re going to need to take care of us.

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Seamus Kirst is a contract author who covers progressive politics, leisure, social actions, and the locations they intersect. He’s the creator of Shitfaced: Musings of a Former Drunk, and his writing has appeared in publications together with The Washington Publish, Teen Vogue, The Guardian, Vice, and, Them.