Hollywood writers launch major strike over workers’ rights

US writers’ union members are walking off the job after six weeks of negotiations with studios and streamers failed.

Sunset casts a pink glow over the Los Angeles skyline as seen from behind the famous Hollywood sign
The strike will start on Tuesday, Writers Guild of America (WGA), said, adding that such decision took place after six weeks of negotiations with Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Disney [J David Ake/AP Photo]

Thousands of film and television writers in the United States have launched a strike after negotiations for better working conditions with main studios and streamers failed to find an agreement.

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) union said the strike, which began after the writers’ contract expired at midnight on Tuesday, came after six weeks of failed negotiations with Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Disney, among others.

“The WGA Negotiating Committee began this process intent on making a fair deal, but the studios’ responses have been wholly insufficient given the existential crisis writers are facing,” the union, which represents 11,500 screenwriters, said in a statement late on Monday.

“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.”

Late-night shows are expected to grind to a halt immediately, while television series and movies scheduled for release later this year and beyond could face major delays.

The strike came after the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), representing studios including Disney and Netflix, said negotiations had “concluded without an agreement”.

The strike could have potentially catastrophic effects on the US entertainment industry.

The last time Hollywood writers laid down their pens and keyboards, in 2007, the strike lasted for 100 days, costing the Los Angeles entertainment economy about $2bn.

This time, the two sides are clashing as writers demand higher pay, minimum guarantees of stable employment and a greater share of profits from the boom in streaming, while studios say they must cut costs due to economic pressures.

Picketing is expected to begin in Los Angeles at 1:00pm local time (20:00 GMT) on Tuesday, with similar demonstrations in New York, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

“They’re not going to break this union,” television writer David Slack, who has worked on “Law & Order” and other shows, wrote on Twitter in a post retweeted by the WGA, whose account logo now reads “Writers Guild On Strike”.

“If they could do without us, they would. If they could break us, they would,” Slack added. “They can’t. They won’t. #WGAStrong.”

‘Sticking points’

A major source of disagreement during talks was the growing trend for TV shows to hire fewer writers, for shorter durations, to script series.

As talks collapsed on Monday, the WGA released a document showing it had called for introducing new minimum numbers of writers, and minimum durations of employment, for TV shows.

The AMPTP said WGA demands that studios hire a set number of writers “for a specified period of time, whether needed or not” were “primary sticking points”.

Another issue on the table is reworking the formula that calculates how writers are paid for streaming shows, which often remain on platforms like Netflix years after they were written.

For decades, writers have been paid “residuals” from each reuse of their material, such as television reruns or DVD sales.

With streaming, writers simply get a fixed annual payout – even if their work generates a smash hit like “Bridgerton” or “Stranger Things”, streamed by hundreds of millions of viewers around the world.

The WGA also wants to address the future effect of artificial intelligence on writing.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies