Writers on the Line

On the Line
13 Million Union Workers Have Our Back
Women labor leaders join genre queens at Fox, George R.R. Martin voices his concerns about A.I. to the New Mexico state legislature, and a birthday celebration at TV City for the ageless Norman Lear
Friday, July 28, 2023
AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler at Fox Studios rally. Photo by Brittany Woodside

Genre queens joined women labor leaders Thursday for a special picket outside Fox Studios.

Alongside leaders from state and local labor federations, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler told striking WGA writers and SAG-AFTRA actors that we are leading the way in a fight for a better life on the job, and that the more than 13 million union members in the U.S. have our back.

“You are capturing the imagination of the entire country, and of the world,”  Shuler told the crowd. "I’ve been meeting and talking with workers all over this country who are standing up just like you. Health care workers, nurses who said we need staffing ratios in these hospitals and we’re going to go on strike with our union until we get them. We’ve got bakery workers who are fighting for $1 more an hour. We have transportation workers who are getting assaulted on the job.

“And we have performers and writers,” she added, “who are holding the line on artificial intelligence.”

The rally also included remarks from California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Treasurer Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher and L.A. County Federation of Labor Chair Yvonne Wheeler, as well as WGAW President Meredith Stiehm and SAG-AFTRA Negotiating Committee members Frances Fisher and Shari Belafonte.

The rally was kicked off by WGAW members Amy Berg and Anne Cofell Saunders, whose Genre Queens 2.0 special picket brought hundreds of women sci-fi and fantasy writers – many wearing black Genre Queen T-shirts – to Fox. Several of the speakers remarked upon the strength of women, both in genres that had not always been welcoming, and leading the charge for labor movement at all levels.

“We’re in all these exciting big budget projects that that need us, and our voices are part of imagining the future,” said Saunders. “So now we’re here together, and now is when we take care of each other. So now it’s time for us to mentor each other, to hire each other and to be here for each other.”

In her remarks, Stiehm picked up on the progress that genre queens have made. Persistence in the face of resistance and adversity is an important trait to have, Stiehm noted, both within the industry and when facing an existential crisis at the negotiating table with the AMPTP.

“That’s a good model for us as we are here on day 87 [of our strike],” Stiehm said. “It’s a good lesson for us that if we want something enough and we really think it’s worthwhile, we may have to struggle and fight for it, but that’s how you get things of value, you fight for them.”

“We’re going to win this fight. We have to win this fight,” added Belafonte. “You know why? Because we’re actors and writers, and we’re used to being both patient and resilient. We’re used to working under pressure and in intense heat.”

Several of the speakers remarked on the disastrous effects of corporate greed, condemning studio CEOs' unwillingness to share their profits with writers and actors. Fletcher recalled her agency’s interaction with the AMPTP when the California Labor Federation negotiated the extension of the state’s film tax credit.

During those negotiations, Fletcher said, AMPTP leadership didn’t take the idea that writers might strike seriously.

“They said, ‘You know, it’s just the writers,’” said Sacramento-based Fletcher, who is also a Teamster. “I said, ‘I don’t think it’s just the writers. I don’t think it’s something to roll your eyes at, because if the writers go out, we’re all going to stand with the writers. And then if the actors go out, we’re all going to stand with the actors.’ And guess what…we’re all going to stand with them until there is a deal on the table.”

Interviewed after the rally, Shuler – who has walked picket lines with WGA writers both in L.A. and New York since the start of the strike – said she has found our members  to be “tenacious, focused and relentless.”

“The energy that I have seen has truly been inspiring, and it’s been inspiring to so many other unions who are headed to the bargaining table who think if you can take a stand like you’re doing, so can we,” Shuler said. “So I’ve been personally juiced up a lot spending time with your members and knowing what they’re sacrificing, and the fact that we’re all in this together, and that we’ve got to stay together.”

California Labor Federation Executive Secretary Treasurer Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (at left), and AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler (center) join WGAW President Meredith Stiehm and WGAW Secretary-Treasurer Betsy Thomas at the Fox Studios rally. 

AI: A Force More Destructive Than Dragons

WGAW member and Game of Thrones novelist, writer and co-executive producer  George R.R. Martin took his concerns about the future of unregulated AI before the Science, Technology & Telecommunications Committee of the New Mexico State Legislature.

“Technology keeps going and going and I’ve experienced every part of it,” said Martin, a longtime science fiction and fantasy writer who lives in Santa Fe. “The coming of AI is something that my community has seen coming for a long time.”

A Guild member for more than 30 years, Martin began his career writing for Beauty and the Beast, The Outer Limits and the 1980s reboot of The Twilight Zone. In addition to writing and producing Game of Thrones and House of The Dragon – both of which are based on his novels – he is executive producer on Dark Winds.

“I joined the WGA in 1986 and have been through several strikes with them,” he wrote on his website. We made gains in all of them, but some issues are more important than others…and this year’s strike is the most important of my lifetime.”

He noted that Dark Winds wrapped production on its second season before the strike, but that House of The Dragon is still shooting in England although “no writing has been done.” He has walked several picket lines in New Mexico.

“These strikes are not really about name writers or producers or showrunners, most of whom are fine;” he wrote on his website. “we’re striking for the entry level writers, the story editors, the students hoping to break in, the actor who has four lines, the guy working his first staff job who dreams of creating his own show one day, as I did back in the 80s.”

As for AI, it may have the potential to write scripts, but in his remarks to the New Mexico lawmakers, Martin questioned the quality of anything that was purely computer-generated. Comparing an AI script to the dancing bears of old-time carnivals, he acknowledged that yes, the bear can dance, but not with any great ability.

“I’ve seen the stuff it’s doing and I think it’s pretty bad, but in a year it will be less bad,” Martin said. "You’ll be taking 50 different sitcoms and blending them together into a new sitcom, or a new cop show or a show with dragons. Who the hell knows?”

Martin spoke alongside actor Mel MacKaron, who addressed performers’ concerns about AI. Both men discussed how their respective unions are interested in issues of credit and compensation as it relates to new technology.

See Photos from the Week of July 24-28

Birthday Wishes 101 for an Industry Giant

Picketers at Television City for Norman Lear's 101st Birthday.

Standing outside the studio where writer-producer Norman Lear created so much iconic television, striking WGA writers sent birthday wishes to Lear on his 101st birthday.

And although he could not be in attendance in person to walk the lines or have a piece of birthday cake with the celebrants at Television City, Lear appeared via a Facetime call to thank the writers and reaffirm his support of our efforts to win a fair contract. Early in the strike, Lear declared in a post on Instagram that he considers himself “at my core, a writer” and that “I stand with writers and with the Writers Guild of America, my union.”

“He’s deeply moved, and he wishes he could be here,” said Brett Miller, president of production for Lear’s Act III Productions who also received word of WGAE members singing "Happy Birthday" from 30 Rock.  “But his family is in town. He is 101, and it’s 100 degrees, and I think we want to keep him around as long as possible.”

WGAW member Luther Mace co-organized the celebration with Universal lot coordinator Judalina Neira, an event that also included a reunion of Emerson College alumni.  Lear attended the school as well, but dropped out to join the U.S. Air Force.

“I’m so happy that Mr. Lear could participate via Facetime, that someone from his company could come out and be a part of it and be able to convey to him the energy and the enthusiasm that the crowd had,” said Mace. “This is actually where he shot a lot of his shows. All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Good Times…these legacy shows are still part of the zeitgeist. The fact that we’re here is very symbolic.”

Mace said that he shares the desires of his fellow Guild members to win a fair contract that pays a living wage, a wage that will keep writers from having to freelance multiple jobs in order to make ends meet.

“Television and the industry at large has changed so much and it’s hard for people to find gainful employment, something that will sustain them,” said Mace, who joined WGAW in 2016. “I’m not looking to buy a house in Malibu. If I can, great, but that’s not not why I’m out here. But I’d like to be able to pay my rent every month.”

Former WGAW Board member Lynn Roth came to the birthday picket carrying the scripts from two episodes of All in the Family that she had written in 1973, her first job while she was still a student at CSUN.

“So I say to people that I was once the youngest member of the WGA, and now I’m the oldest person on the picket line,” said Roth. “This day is important because Norman Lear is television. There is nobody that has the influence and has accomplished the things that this man has done. So honoring him at the strike and to see him congratulate us was just absolutely great.”

Even having been through previous strikes, Roth called the current action unprecedented.

“I have never seen the WGA so united,” she said. “The attitude toward this strike is remarkable. As so many people have said, it’s not just about the WGA. It has permeated the entire country and unions everywhere.”

Former WGAW Board member Lynn Roth at Television City for Norman Lear's 101st Birthday