Si Se Puede! A Lion of Labor Visits The Picket Lines
One of the most influential figures in the history of the labor movement walked with striking WGA writers.
Dolores Huerta, whose career as an organizer and activist dates back to the 1950s, joined picketers at CBS Television City Thursday, walking the line and urging WGA writers to stay strong and keep up the fight.
"You influence not only movies and TV, but you help influence all of us because your work reaches every single family in the United States," Huerta told the picketers. "We want you to be compensated for the work you do because what you do is so, so important."
"You're going to win your strike," she continued. "All of us need you, and all of us depend on you. Si Se Puede!"
From co-founding the National Farm Workers Association with Cesar E. Chavez and helping to enact the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, through her seven decades of work on behalf of women and underrepresented populations, Huerta has impacted countless lives. Among her many accolades are the Eleanor Roosevelt Humans Rights Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Six schools are named after her. Her work continues through the Dolores Huerta Foundation for Community Organizing.
A Creative Pipeline Runs Dry
Returning to picket at the studio that provided them inspiration and a pathway into the industry, alumni of the Warner Brothers Television Workshop (WBTW) directed their anger on the picket lines over the fact that future aspiring writers would not have that same opportunity.
The more than 40-year-old program was shut down in October of 2022, a casualty of the Warner Bros. Discovery merger. Despite press releases from the studio affirming its commitment to cultivating new voices, WBTW program alumni at Thursday’s picket say they are dubious.
“Many of the top leaders and showrunners of Hollywood are alums of this program. The fellowship has changed lives,” said Michael Robin, a member of the class of 2020 who helped organize the alumni picket.
“We wanted to be out here to show our support for each other, to show our support for this fellowship, and also to picket the studio that is putting budget cuts in front of creatives and in front of the future of their own bottom line. They’re not going to have people who can make things if they don’t want to invest in the future of television.”
Fellow WBTW alumni and future showrunners Joe Henderson and Melinda Hsu Taylor echoed Robin’s feeling that the now defunct program was a critical resource. The program provided training and allowed aspiring showrunners to learn new skills.
It was at the WBTW that Taylor, who had previously written features, learned the act structure of television.
“Suddenly I realized, ‘Oh, I do like this structure. It makes sense to my brain. I can maybe enjoy this and get paid on a weekly rate if I get in,’” said Taylor. “It gave folks like me a door into the industry that I don’t think I ever would have had without the program, and now I’m a showrunner.”
Henderson said that the elimination of the WBTW represents another rung being removed from the ladder that writers need to advance in their careers, “especially women and people of color who are much more marginalized when it comes to these opportunities,” Henderson said. “We are losing our ladder, and we are losing the ability to train writers.”
Taylor also emphasized the importance of showing up in person to protest.
“It’s so easy for Warner Bros. to put out a press release that says, ‘We still remember that diversity and inclusion are important. We still believe in bringing up new voices.’" Taylor said. "But if you don’t see who the voices are, the bodies, and the humans that they’re attached to, it’s easy to forget about that in a couple of paragraphs of a press release.”
Grooving at Universal
Visitors to Universal’s '70s themed picket had no difficulty selecting a soundtrack to accompany them Thursday as they crossed back and forth in front of the Jimmy Stewart gate. It had to be “Aurora” the hit soundtrack album by Daisy Jones & The Six from the Amazon series of the same name. The album was played cover to cover, from the opening title track “Aurora” through “No Words.”
“It was such a great album, and I’m so excited to share it with everyone at the WGA picket line,” said Universal lot coordinator Judalina Neira, a supervising producer on the series, who also organized Thursday’s picket.
The picket reunited the Daisy writers including Co-Developer and co-showrunner Scott Neustadter, as well as some fans of the hit album who brought copies of the vinyl to be autographed.
And while he was happy to see the Daisy team again, Neustadter confessed he would rather be back in a writers room at work on a new project.
“But this is important, and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do,” he said. “I’m glad that everybody seems to be very coalesced in their desire to get a good deal, and keep their eyes on the prize. It’s been really inspiring to see everybody dig their heels in and say ‘We’re not going to take a bad deal’ and get run over anymore.”
Co-Executive Producer Jenny Klein agreed that the future of writing is at stake in the current strike. An 11-year WGAW member, Klein had newly graduated from USC during the 2007-08 strike and worked at Los Angeles County Hospital for two years before landing her first job as a writer’s PA on Supernatural.
“It was right when they were coming back from the strike with the truncated season. I had to wait that out, and now I’m part of this one,” Klein said, “and I’m really proud to be, because I remember what it felt like to feel like being on the sidelines but wanting to be part of it. Now I’m strengthened to be part of something so immense as this movement.”
A Well-Traveled T-Shirt
But that shirt is a family heirloom, and it fits Garfinkel perfectly.
“I grew up watching my dad wear it, and then I got it back from him for the strike,” said Garfinkel. “I feel a lot of pride wearing it because there were important issues when I was 3 years old, and to continue the legacy of fighting for writers feels really good.”
The shirt was originally given not to Garfinkel’s father, but to her grandfather, Al Garfinkel, who managed Jerry’s Famous Deli in Studio City for 25 years. The deli was a popular spot for striking writers back during the ’88 strike, and Al Garfinkel and his staff took care of many a hungry writer who came directly from the picket line.
That Joelle Garfinkel ended up working the lines a short distance from where Jerry’s Famous Deli used to be is not coincidental. “It’s part of the reason I volunteered to be a captain here at CBS Radford specifically,” said Garfinkel, a WGAW member since 2015 whose credits include Cam Girls and Ordinary Joe.
During the 2007-08 WGA strike, Garfinkel was a PA and was not yet in the Guild. But she was in solidarity with the craftspeople who would become her union family and remembers bringing cookies to the picketing writers.
“I’ve been stuck at staff level multiple times. I’ve seen how much this has turned into a gig economy in the 16 years I’ve been working in this business,” she said. “It’s so empowering to be out here with everybody.”