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Writers’ Strike Ends with Landmark Agreement

Members of the WGA AND SAG-AFTRA picket in front of Netflix Sunset Studio location. (Photo by Getty Images)

The 2023 writers’ strike, which came close to surpassing the duration of the 1988 writers strike, officially came to a close on Wednesday, Sept. 27. Beginning on May 2, the strike was triggered by failed negotiations between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) regarding a new three-year tentative deal between the two entities. Key issues included compensation, residual payments, AI utilization, staffing, and transparency. After nearly five months of work stoppage for writers, the WGA negotiating committee came to an “exceptional” agreement and praised the new deal in a shared statement,  as it offers “meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership.” 

Following a one-month pause since their last sit down to negotiate, the AMPTP President –  Carol Lombardini – was joined by Warner Discovery Chief Executive, David Zaslav; Netflix Co-Chief Executive, Ted Sarandos; Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive, Bob Iger; and NBCUniversal Studio Chairman, Donna Langley, to resume discussions with the WGA’s negotiating committee, led by co-chairs David A. Goodman and Chris Keyser, along with chief negotiator Ellen Stutz. After five days of talks, the two factions ultimately reached a tentative agreement on September 24.

The leadership of the writers’ union then reviewed and approved the deal, though they noted that the strike would not be officially concluded nor would writers resume work until the deal was ratified. Voting for the ratification of the deal by guild members took place between October 2 and October 9.

The agreement marks a significant victory for writers in ensuring more equitable compensation, transparency, and safeguards in an evolving content era. 

Writers now have guarantees of employment during development and production, preventing the loss of experience and pay when hired for development rooms or “mini-rooms,” which will now require a minimum of three writers. Shows with at least 13 episodes must have a staff of at least six writers, with staff size adjusted based on the episode count.

Writers will enjoy a raise under the new deal, with a minimum 5% increase in future residuals, surpassing previous gains and more than the original 2-4% raise the studios suggested. The guild also secured bonuses linked to the success of streaming shows, an idea originally rejected by studios. Improved compensation for series employment, including higher weekly pay and script fees, and new residual models based on viewership are also part of the agreement.

In regards to viewership, transparency was a significant concern for writers, as shows were often canceled due to not reaching an undisclosed viewership standard. The studios have agreed to provide the writers’ union with comprehensive data on the total hours streamed for self-produced, high-budget streaming programs, which counts for any original series on a streaming platform. Initially, the studios proposed giving viewership information to a special committee in the writers union, but the new agreement ensures the crucial data will be available for determining success-based residuals.

Regarding artificial intelligence, the agreement states that AI cannot create or revise material or undermine writers’ rights, nor can it be used with past writers’ work to train new systems. Though writers can use AI voluntarily, companies cannot mandate its usage and must disclose the use of AI-generated materials.

Additionally, the new agreement includes improvements in health pension provisions, while also introducing protective measures and writer rights for writers engaged in soap operas and comedy-variety televised programs. 

While one strike is over in Hollywood, another one remains. On October 2, the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) resumed their own negotiations with the AMPTP, marking their first round of talks since actors initiated a strike in July 2023 due to the failure to reach a new three-year tentative deal. This marked the first dual strike for the unions since 1960, during a time where former President Ronald Reagan was serving as president of SAG-AFTRA. The tentative agreement recently reached with the writers is poised to exert influence on the studio heads, potentially expediting a resolution to SAG’s demands and bringing an end to the strike, therefore benefiting the entire industry.

However, after days of negotiating, on October 11, The AMPTP suspended talks after citing the gap between the actors union and the studios as “too great” for negotiations to productively continue.  In an act of solidarity, various Hollywood unions, such as the WGA, the Directors Guild (DGA), American Federation of Musicians (AFM), and more released a joint statement demanding the AMPTP to go back to the bargaining table and reach a deal with the actors.

Ebenezer Nkunda

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