Writers on the Line

On the Line
From the Studios to Santa Clarita: A Surge of Solidarity
SAG-AFTRA joins the picket lines, writers support Teamsters in their Amazon fight, the IEG reunites at WB, and the AAPI All-Union picket packs Paramount
Monday, July 17, 2023

SAG-AFTRA Joins the Picket Lines

SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher, Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabrtee Ireland and Negotiating Committee members at Disney. Photo by J.W. Hendricks.

Studios got an extra jolt of union power Friday as striking SAG-AFTRA members joined WGA writers on the picket lines for the first day of the union’s strike.

Speaking outside Warner Bros. SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher reiterated her disappointment at the studios’ inability to reach  a deal, even after the Guild had extended negotiations with the AMPTP for 12 days after the expiration of their previous agreement.

“Actually, they just wanted to continue to squeeze us out of our livelihoods,” said Drescher. “We are their partners and we're being treated disrespectfully and dishonorably.”

Reacting to a recent article in Deadline where it was suggested that the strike will continue until WGA members faced the loss of their houses, Drescher bristled at the notion that anybody would consider this "a necessary evil."

"I’ve been in this industry for decades and I never anticipated this kind of a reaction," she said. "What are we dealing with? Land barons from medieval times and we’re treated like serfs? I’m sorry but somewhere along the line, somebody has to say the jig is up.”

Drescher noted that the struggles actors are facing is not unique to their profession or even to Hollywood. 

“This is not just happening to us, it’s happening to other industries and the eyes of the nation and the eyes of the world are upon us waiting to see what we’re going to be able to do," she said. "Because the good fight that we’re fighting is for workers everywhere that are being squeezed out of their livelihood by big business greed.”

With the industry now at an inflection point, this is the first time in 63 years that actors and writers have struck at the same time. The unions are united by a common drive to fix a broken system, stop the systematic erosion of their careers, and ensure that their members share in the success of the content they create.
The significance of the moment was not lost on WGAW members who had already been on the lines for over 70 days, with frequent appearances from SAG-AFTRA members joining in solidarity prior to their own strike.

At Netflix’s picket line Friday, captain Jasmyne Peck reflected on the unity between the unions, “We have different struggles in some points, but there’s so much overlap in what we’re fighting for in terms of fair pay, fair treatment, and longevity for our workers in this industry. So, that’s top of mind for me today.”

SAG-AFTRA Negotiating Committee members sign in at Disney.

See more photos from WGA and SAG-AFTRA on the lines together

Solidarity Against a Prime-Evil Threat

WGA writers join Teamsters at a solidarity picket outside an Amazon warehouse in Santa Clarita.

Striking WGA writers helped stoke the flames of an already boiling hot union summer Friday, joining their Teamsters siblings in solidarity for a picket outside an Amazon warehouse in Santa Clarita.

More than 50 writers joined striking Amazon delivery drivers from Palmdale, who began their unfair labor practice strike June 24 and have been spreading their protests to company warehouses throughout California and even to New Jersey.

Since the start of the WGA strike in May, the Teamsters have pledged not to cross our picket lines, turning around trucks at studios. Members of Teamsters Local 396 were featured speakers at WGAW’s Amazon Crime Day rally last Wednesday at Amazon Studios in Culver City and at the WGA Strong March and Rally on June 21 at the La Brea Tar Pits.

On Friday, WGA writers were happy to help return the favor.

“The Teamsters have been heroic in their support of us, and I feel like we owe a great deal to them,” said Michael Perry, an EP and screenwriter who has participated in location pickets since the start of the strike. “They’re helping us make our point that we want a fair contract, and we’re going to shut down the town until we get one. So when they said, ‘Can you come out here,’ I said, ‘Absolutely!’”

Those extra bodies and that spirit of solidarity were greatly appreciated, said Jessie Moreno, one of the lead organizers with Local 396.

“It’s been awesome. I love to see it!” said Moreno. “We’re all facing our own negotiations battles right now, and we love to support any unions in their battles. Just seeing the WGA and some of the other locals and unions giving their support has just been tremendous.”

The Teamsters are demanding that the company address issues of low pay and unsafe working conditions, including forcing their drivers to use trucks in poor condition and without air conditioning. They maintain that the strike will continue until Amazon reinstates its fired Palmdale employees, recognizes the Teamsters, and respects its contract with the union.

“With as much money as they make, Amazon could definitely take care of all their employees, but they choose not to and hide behind this sub-contracting way of doing things,” said Moreno. “We need to put a stop to that.”

WGA’s presence effectively doubled the size of the picket line, with blue T-shirt-clad scribes marching alongside their black T-shirt clad Teamster siblings, chanting: “Amazon! You can’t hide! We can see your greedy side!” and “What’s disgusting? Union busting!”

Friday’s action was timed to disrupt Prime Day deliveries. A steady line of picketers snaked around two parking lots, causing delays for employees who were looking to drive into and out of the warehouse’s lots.

Picketers briefly escaped the heat under a canopy, loading up on sunscreen, water, and electrolytes. Neighboring office buildings offered bathrooms.

A bit of physical discomfort is a small price to pay in the interest of building union solidarity, said Kat Wood, a screenwriter and five-year WGAW member. 

“It feels like this is one of those ‘this is our moment’ moments, like if it isn’t now, when?” said Wood. “Nobody wants to be out in over 100-degree heat, but we don’t have a choice. So I’m happy to be out there supporting all of the other unions.”

WGA writers outside an Amazon warehouse in Santa Clarita.
Members of the WGAW Inclusion and Equity Group (IEG) and WGAW President Meredith Stiehm at Warner Bros. Photo by JW Hendricks.

“We saw this as an opportunity to get people out together,” said Glen Mazzara, who co-chairs the IEG with Shonda Rhimes. “We haven’t seen each other in person since COVID. This is the first time.”

“We’re on strike as well, and I think finding ways to still see each other and remind ourselves why these fights are important does a lot to just lift the spirt and spread that good will,” agreed WGAW member Katie Mathewson, an IEG member for two years.

The IEG is a committee that examines challenges faced by writers from underrepresented groups with an emphasis on intersectional issues experienced by all groups. 

While Thursday’s gathering on the lines marked the first time the IEG was able to reunite in-person, nearly all of the Inclusion and Equity Committees have already gathered their supporters for pickets during the strike, some multiple times.

A former co-chair of the LGBTQ+ Writers Committee, Matthewson has attended several of those committee-organized pickets.

“It fills my cup,” said Mathewson who attended a massive Pride Month picket with the LGBTQ+ Committee at Warner Bros. in June. “It just made my heart happy to see all of my friends from the committee that I was co-chair of for two years. During that entire time, we never had an in-person meeting. A lot of these people I have never seen outside my Zoom screen. It’s been really nice to find that community and to just remind each other that we all have the same fight right now.”

AAPI Takes Paramount

WGAW Asian American Writers Committee Vice Chair Tracy Held and Chair Kristina Woo at the All-Union Asian American Pacific Islander picket at Universal. Photo by Brittany Woodside.

While they may have run out of strike signs at the All-Union Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Committee special picket event at Paramount Wednesday, Committee Chair Kristina Woo and Vice Chair Tracy Held kept one to collect signatures from attendees.

As the number of signatures on that sign might indicate, the picket was packed. It took three photographers to capture everybody who assembled for the group picture. Embracing the "All-Union" call, the picket attracted members of the DGA, PGA, SAG-AFTRA, WGAW Disabled Writers Committee, WGAW LGBTQ+ Writers Committee, and the Asian American Labor Alliance. A-Game, Eat Healthy Crafty, and CAPE donations contributed to an amazing snack spread. The event also received promotion support from Strong Asian Lead.

“It was amazing,” said Woo. “There was such a good energy, and also informally Tracy and I are now connected with all of the heads of the AAPI groups at other unions, so it was just a lovely coming together.”

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.

"One of the things feature writers are fighting for this strike is to finally make the studios admit that it doesn’t matter if you’re writing for the big screen or streaming. The work is the same, so the pay should be too"

Read the full story here.