A Striking DS9 Storyline
Nearly 25 years ago, writing on a series where characters made a practice of “boldly going where no one has gone before,” Robert Hewitt Wolfe emboldened one of his character to start a union.
The series was Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In season four, episode 15, “Bar Association,” the Ferengi character Rom (played by Max Grodénchik) organizes his fellow bar workers to form a union, much to the consternation of greedy bar owner Quark (Armin Shimerman), who also happens to be Rom’s brother. Rom nearly dies as the result of an ear infection because he is not given time off to see a doctor. With profits down, Quark arbitrarily decides to slash everyone’s pay by one-third. Which leads to Rom forming a union and, ultimately, a strike.
Wolfe co-wrote the teleplay episode with series showrunner Ira Steven Behr, with the story by Barbara J. Lee & Jenifer A. Lee. As Hewitt recalls, the Lees pitched the story, and he was all in on the idea of highlighting organized labor on Deep Space Nine.
“My mom was a nurse, and I walked the picket line with her when she went on strike when I was 14,” Hewitt said. “I think I also had just seen the movie Matewan [written by John Sayles], and I thought, ‘We should do a Matewan episode,’ but without the murder.”
During an interview outside Paramount Studios at last week’s Star Trek-themed “United We Trek” picket, Wolfe and Shimerman reflected on the impact of “Bar Association” which has long been a favorite within organized labor circles. Shimerman is currently working with a group of restaurant workers which has used the episode as a tool to lobby for legislation raising restaurant workers’ salaries. He carries a meme from the episode on his strike sign which depicts characters from the episode and the quotes “The Boss Needs You. You Don’t Need Them!” and “Labor is entitled to all it creates.”
“The irony of the episode was that they were striking against Quark,” said Shimerman who joined Wolfe for the interview, “and the actor playing Quark, at the time, was sitting on the board of the Screen Actors Guild, and my wife [Kitty Swink] was the Vice President.”
“One of the great things about Star Trek in all of its iterations is that it was always meant to deal with social issues,” Shimerman continued. “We’re here today practicing our civil rights. That episode was to remind people that labor is really important, and that people need to be treated fairly and to be given a voice.”
That sentiment applies to all people on a set, Wolfe emphasized, from the actors and writers to all of the below-the-line crafts.
“People never really think about it, but hopefully they’re thinking about it now. Every episode of TV is basically like an airplane. It’s a multi-million-dollar product being built by all this skilled labor, and it’s all union labor. They’re all working their butts off, all the time.”
Both men said they are pleased that the messages of “Bar Association” continue to resonate. Especially now, when organized labor is receiving national attention.
“That’s why we’re here today,” Shimerman said. “We’re here to make sure that the next generation of writers and actors have the capability of having the lives that Robert and I enjoyed. The people who came before us stood on these lines and said, ‘We’re going to strike to make sure this generation – our generation – has what they want to have.' We’re here for the next generation because the present world, with the streaming model is antithetical to a middle-class living.”
“I see what you did there, with ‘next generation,’” Wolfe told Shimerman, with a laugh.
Financial Support Resources
If you are looking for assistance beyond the WGAW Strike Fund and Good and Welfare Loans, check out the Additional Financial Support Resources page of the WGA strike website. The Guild has compiled a list of external programs to help members find financial, food, and wellness support during the strike. The list has been recently updated and now includes links to California Women, Infants & Children (WIC), Entertainment Health Insurance Services (EHIS), Pen America Foundation and the Student Debt Crisis Center (SDCC).
Queens Rules at Sony
Last week, WGAW member and King of Queens Co-Creator Michael Weithorn reunited the show’s writing staff, along with a few cast members for a group picket at Sony.
“Including syndication, the show has been running continuously since 1998, and it has made over $1 billion dollars in profit for Sony," said Weithorn. "The wonderful writers who were responsible for the show’s voice and financial success were able to build their lives and raise families based on what they were paid for their work, which is just as it should be. That simple, fair compensation structure been taken away from today’s generation of writers, and we’re out here fighting to get it back."