Writers on the Line

On the Line
City Hall Solidarity and Biting Back at Netflix
The L.A. City Council passes a resolution in support of writers, Netflix gets grilled at its pricey pop-up, and members UNITE with hotel workers on strike
Wednesday, July 5, 2023

A Resolution for Writer

WGA members and L.A. City Councilman Hugo Soto-Martinez at City Hall.

Galvanizing the support for striking WGA writers many of their members have already shown individually on the picket lines, the Los Angeles City Council passed a formal resolution urging the AMPTP to come back to the table to give us a fair deal.

The resolution, co-sponsored by Councilmembers Hugo Soto-Martinez, Katy Yaroslavsky and Tim McOsker, passed unanimously at the council’s meeting last Friday.

“Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world, and has a vested interest in the sustainability of that industry’s workforce,” the resolution read. “Writers are facing the most comprehensive assault on their compensation and working conditions in a generation. Media companies have taken advantage of the industry’s transition to global streaming to underpay workers. As a result, writers are doing more work for less pay and with less job security.”

Soto-Martinez and Yaroslavsky had walked the picket lines as recently as Thursday when Soto-Martinez came to Netflix in Hollywood where he spoke at the Striking 9 to 5 picket. On that same day, Yaroslavsky joined picketers at Television City in L.A.'s Fairfax District.

In petitioning his councilmembers for their yes vote, Soto-Martinez–a longtime union organizer with UNITE HERE before his election to the City Council–remarked that the WGA strike was part of a nationwide movement for worker fairness.

“This is a fight for the future of Hollywood, and it’s not just the writers,” said Soto-Martinez. “Truck drivers, set designers, janitors, and stage hands are all in solidarity because every single one of them is being undercut and underpaid and disrespected by many of the studios here in our region.”

Yaroslavsky noted that California Governor Gavin Newsom was expected to sign a bill extending the state’s film incentives program through 2030.

“I think we can all agree that the studios should do their part to treat their employees with the respect they deserve,” said Yaroslavsky, whose district includes Fox Studios and Television City. “I visited the picket lines at CBS, and everyone there was in good spirits, but this isn’t fun for anyone. I know that everyone on the picket line would much rather be working. Instead they have to get up every morning and stand in the heat and fight for their ability to make their rent or their mortgage every month to put food on the table for their families.”

Several WGA members came to City Hall to remind the Council, through public comments, about the circumstances that our members face and why we are on strike. They talked about the changes within the industry caused by the greed of large corporations, and the resulting difficulties of writers earning a sustainable living in Los Angeles.

“Many of my colleagues and friends have moved out of Los Angeles,” said Far Shariat, a strike captain and WGAW member for more than 25 years.  “They still write for TV, but they do it from another town or city or state where it’s cheaper.”

The WGA members in attendance included WGAW Secretary-Treasurer Betsy Thomas, Board member and Negotiating Committee member Adam Conover, Jasmyne Peck, Shawn Wines, Jonterri Gadson, Tom Szentgyorgyi, Steve Harper, Elyse Morales, Kristina Woo, David Weddle, Isaac Gomez, Diya Mishra, Neil McNeil, Kristina Thomas, Debra Fisher, Far Shariat and Brendan Gallagher. Several gave testimony during public while many others had planned to speak, but were not permitted to due to lack of time.

Noting that she had not worked since 2021, Mishra said that the stability of her Guild health coverage is one of the reasons she can afford to be on strike.

“The sacrifice that previous Guild members have made have afforded me the stability to pursue this career, use my voice and not just get a seat at the table but keep it,” said Mishra. “Now those of us who have chosen a creative life accept that that stability is not a given.”

Morales also detailed working in mini-rooms on shows that never went into production, leaving her with “nothing to tide me over in the increasingly long wait between jobs.”

“We should not be struggling to put food on the table or to pay rent,” Morales said. “I am early in my career, but I believe in this strike because I wanted it to be a career, not just a thing that barely pays the bills.”

Although she was not permitted to speak in favor of or vote on the council’s resolution, District 4 Councilmember Nithya Raman is another strong ally for writers. A self-described “proud WGA wife,” Raman is married to WGA member Vali Chandrasekaran.

“I feel like there’s so much more solidarity around the city for this strike,” said Raman, who was also at the Netflix picket last week. “I feel like there’s solidarity from the actors, and in ways that I didn’t see in the 2007-08 strike. Residuals that the WGA won from their previous strike enabled us to have stability to be able to purchase a home in L.A. That just doesn’t exist now.”

L-R Lot Coordinator Bill Wolkoff, WGA Negotiating Committee Co-Chair David A. Goodman, L.A. City Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky, WGA Negotiating Committee Co-Chair Chris Keyser, WGA Negotiating Committee members Patric M. Verrone and Ashley Gable at Television City.
The "CEO Fridays" team at the opening of Netflix's pop-up restaurant near WGAW headquarters.

The decision by Netflix to open Netflix Bites, a pricey pop-up restaurant, during the WGA strike (and down the street from WGAW headquarters no-less), drew eye rolls from across out membership.

“My reaction was just, ‘Come on!’” said Jimmy Blackmon, a captain at Netflix.

Eye rolls turned to action last Friday as a team of WGA members staged a satirical cook-out of their own outside the opening of Netflix Bites. Thanks to the creativity of Blackmon, fellow WGAW member Shawn Wines and several other members and supporters, Netflix Bites patrons and passer-bys got served more than just chilled tomato and grilled watermelon consommé. They also got a "taste" of what striking writers are experiencing by reading about our circumstances on a customized "menu."

Setting up a grill, brought by Wines, just steps from Netflix Bites, the team opened up its CEO Fridays station. Manning that grill - but not actually cooking anything - was professional actor Adam Lustick, who portrayed Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos’ personal chef. “After you’ve had some of that peasant food, come on over here,” Chef Adam told the customers waiting in line to eat at Netflix Bites.

At CEO Fridays, diners could experience dishes containing some of Sarandos’ favorite ingredients, including “cheap residuals,” “mass layoffs,” “very long vacations,” “A.I.” and the ever-popular “blood of the writers themselves.”

Blackmon created a special menu for volunteers to hand out. Among the items that WGA is serving: Fair Wages Fries, Human-Written Hot Dogs and the Sustainable Career Sundae. “And that’s just a taste,” the menu promises, directing readers to the Guild's WGA Strike website.

Wines, who had been at City Hall earlier in the morning on Friday for the L.A. City Council proclamation, said he enjoys “big chaotic events,” and was happy to help Blackmon develop the restaurant spoof. A 10-year member, Wines worked with students at Boston University to show their displeasure when Warner Bos. Discovery CEO David Zaslav recently spoke at the University’s commencement.

“They asked if I had any ideas to do something fun with this,” Wines said. “They had the menu stuff already and we came up with the idea to have [an actor playing a] chef come out here and grab some more attention from people walking by. This is the most arts and crafts I’ve done in my whole life.”

When he learned about the opening of Netflix Bites, Blackmon approached Guild rep Fátima Murrieta in WGAW’s Member Organizing Department and asked how he could help. He was tapped to lead the effort.

“I had already been kind of involved in some off-hour picketing and leafletting and that sort of thing,” said Blackmon, a member of WGAW for two years. “I come from a comedy background so I like just riffing on ideas.”

“It’s like I’ve got the opening night jitters seeing what this is going to look like,” he added late last week. “So it will be fun to find out.”

To learn more about upcoming actions like this one, email MBA 2023.

The menu for "CEO Fridays"

A Show of Unity Downtown

WGA members joined striking hotel employees from UNITE HERE Local 11 in front of the Hotel Figueroa. The union, which represents more than 15,000 workers at 65 major hotels in Los Angeles and Orange County walked off the job over the July 4 weekend in its push for significantly improved wages.  

For updates on UNITE HERE Local 11’s contract campaign and actions, follow @UNITEHERE11 on Twitter or visit www.unitehere11.org. See Local 11’s Mutual Aid Committee page for ways to support hotel workers.

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 August, 2018 (two and half years after engaging), we delivered the “official” first draft to the studio. Guaranteed two-step deals and weekly pay are basic minimums screenwriters should be afforded in this business where so much is asked of us to get projects off the ground."

Read the full story here.