Writers on the Line

On the Line
At the Scene of Amazon Crime
Writers and Teamsters deliver the truth to Amazon, standing behind SAG-AFTRA as they begin their strike, and why one staff writer's day job isn't writing
Thursday, July 13, 2023

Calling Out Amazon on "Crime Day"

WGAW member CK Kiechel at Amazon Crime Day rally in Culver City

With its penchant for exploiting all its workers—from drivers and warehouse workers, to writers— a certain mega corporation has become a prime target for slimy practices.

And at our Amazon Crime Day rally in front of the company’s studio headquarters Wednesday, the WGA reminded Amazon – and all big tech companies that have broken our industry’s model – that L.A. is a union town, and that unions like WGA and Teamsters will not stand for this type of treatment.

“A company like Amazon spends $1 billion on a Lord of the Rings TV series,” WGAW Board member and WGA Negotiating Committee member Eric Haywood told a fired-up crowd during his introductory remarks. “How have they done that? A lot of ways, but one of the ways is by making sure that they pay their writers less and less each year.

“We have been out here for 11 weeks,” Haywood concluded, “and we’re going to stay out here every day, every week until we get the deal we deserve.”

At the rally, which coincided with Amazon Prime Day, picketers handed out Amazon Crime Day flyers providing information about the WGA’s strike and giving data showing that Amazon can easily afford to pay its writers.

During the program that shone a bright  light on Amazon’s company-wide unfriendly labor practices Wednesday, Haywood was joined by WGAW members who have worked on Amazon series including Board Member Liz Alper and strike captains C.K. Kiechel and Jasmyne Peck, as well as members of the Teamsters who have worked as Amazon drivers.

Amazon lot coordinator Jeane Phan Wong served as MC, and WGA Negotiating Committee Co-Chair Chris Keyser closed his speech by noting that tech companies like Amazon, Apple, and Netflix mistreat workers all over the world.

“They export the pain of capitalism, unrestrained by anything but the venal desire for a larger and larger bottom line,” Keyser said. “The thing that scares them the most is not how loudly we speak and scream, but how firmly we stand.”

Guild research has determined that the cost of settling the strike would cost Amazon approximately $32 million per year, a figure that represents .006% of the company’s annual revenue. But several speakers said that Amazon’s unwillingness to bargain fairly with the WGA was driven not by the dollars at stake, but by the precedent that settling with the WGA would set.

After discussing how producers had tried to cut her out of production on the series Blade Runner 2099 shortly before the strike, Kiechel calculated that her salary would be a fraction of a percent of the show’s budget. A producer friend told her that, with Amazon, decisions weren’t necessarily driven purely by finance.

“I’ve been thinking about that word ‘precedent’ and what it means for us,” Kiechel said. “When money doesn’t make sense, look to power. We’ve seen how Amazon treats their warehouse employees and their drivers. A successful strike would demonstrate to the rest of this industry, to the rest of their employees across all sectors, and to the rest of the country what labor could do, what a union can do. And Amazon cannot have that.”

In a separate interview, WGAW member Christopher C. Rogers recalled he joined the team of the Amazon series Paper Girls as a writer and executive producer, optimistic that working for a streaming company with boundless resources would be an improvement over some of his recent experiences. Instead, Rogers said, Paper Girls was a disappointment – a mini-room situation in which only the showrunner was extended to deliver the episodes, while the other writers were cut loose to pursue other projects.

“I really feel like they missed this opportunity to create a farm system of great young talent, while also kind of abusing the time of the established talent that they had,” said Rogers, who was not in L.A. at the time of Wednesday’s Amazon Crime picket. “I think these streamers had the chance to be better, and they certainly have been worse. Nobody won. It didn’t have to be like that, and I think that’s the new norm, unfortunately.”

Wednesday’s rally also included remarks from three members of the Teamsters who have worked for Amazon in the Inland Empire and Palmdale. Staffer Shaun Martinez of Teamsters Local 396 chronicled how the company built its first warehouse in the Inland Empire in 2012 and quickly expanded its delivery operation in the area, as it became one of the largest employers in the nation.

“So your fight has implications for the entire working class, and for the future of work,” Martinez said.
Drivers Stephen Vanegas, Cecilia Porter, and Ray Quijada both talked about appalling working conditions, such as driving vans with no air conditioning in 100-degree heat, for unlivable wages.

“What this company is doing is not right for anybody,” said Vanegas. “I’ve been bitten by dogs. I’ve been chased in my van. They don’t care about the struggles we go through with the sun, with the broken phones  – all they care about is money.”

The rally concluded with strike captain Jasmyne "Jazz"  Peck, who had worked on an Amazon series, reading a quote from Amazon Labor Union President Chris Smalls and then leading a chant that sent attendees back to the picket line.

Teamsters Ray Quijada, Cecilia Porter, and Stephen Vanegas at Amazon.

Welcome To The Lines!

A throwback to swag from the 2007 strike, this graphic is also available in our social media toolkit.

We stand behind SAG-AFTRA as they begin their strike. The last time our unions struck at the same time, both won landmark provisions on residuals and pension and health funds. This is an essential fight. Let’s welcome our SAG-AFTRA siblings on the picket lines, starting tomorrow!

Insurance Beats Uncertainty

WGAW member Julia Lillis Cohen at Sony.

After giving her sign a quick staple gun repair, Julia Lillis Cohen was ready to hit the picket line at Sony.

Alas, the message of Cohen’s sign – “10 Years Writing…Had to Get a Day Job for Insurance” – was intact. It’s the system that needs fixing, says the WGAW member of six years.

“I was saying to my husband, ‘Staffing in writers’ rooms is not sustainable,’” said Cohen, whose credits include New Warriors, Bless The Harts, and the upcoming Obliterated for Netflix. “I’ve been tricked into thinking this was an actual career. It’s not. I need to get a job.”

So she did. Possessing a Masters degree in mechanical engineering, Cohen secured a full-time job as a science writer, a position which she tries to balance with her work in the entertainment industry. Throw in picketing, and that’s a third job, says the mother of two children, ages 7 and 8.

But the insurance from her day job makes it worth it. Cohen’s husband is a producer of independent films. The health insurance from Cohen’s day job covers the entire family.

“There’s something nice about having something stable, a paycheck that comes every two weeks,” she said. “I don’t know when I’ll ever feel comfortable leaving a full-time job that has full benefits for my family for potentially a six-week staff job which could lead to something else, but there’s no guarantee. And once you lose that insurance, it’s like you’re just out there on your own.”

Why We Strike

Throughout this negotiating cycle, writers have been speaking up about our personal experiences working over the past several years. These stories highlight precisely why we are on strike and why our proposals are so critical to the future of this profession.

"In summer 2020, I worked a three-week mini-room for Apple TV+. The showrunner, three other writers, and I were tasked with breaking an eight-episode season and writing four episodes. In three weeks. I agreed to take scale, which I hadn’t done since the start of my career, because the showrunner was a friend and I LOVED his premise."

Read the full story here.