Writers on the Line

On the Line
L.A.'s Labor Strikes Back
Hundreds of WGA members embrace a defining moment of labor solidarity at the Unions Strike Back rally in downtown L.A.
Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Labor Takes to the Streets

WGAW strike captain Franki Butler and WGAW President Meredith Stiehm prepare to speak at Unions Strike Back rally. Photo by J.W. Hendricks.

Standing side by side with thousands of their union family from across the city, the WGA took to the streets of downtown L.A. to embrace and enjoy a defining moment of labor solidarity. Wearing their blue shirts, hundreds of WGA members joined Guild leadership kicking off the Memorial Day weekend at the Unions Strike Back rally organized by the L.A. County Federation of Labor (LA Fed), AFL-CIO.

The rally, held at 12th & Figueroa next to Crypto.com Arena, featured speakers from local and national labor organizations including the WGAW. Attendees wore their union t-shirts, displayed signs and cheered on the speeches. Multiple speakers hailed the striking WGA writers both for taking action to achieve a fair contrast as well as for taking the lead during what California Federation of Labor’s Lorena Gonzalez called a “hot labor summer" in L.A.

From teachers to Teamsters, from hospitality workers to actors, speaker after speaker led the crowd in chants to “shut it down” if our collective demands for fairness are not addressed. The LA Fed estimates that the unions present at the rally represent 200,000 workers whose contracts had either already expired or were set to expire in 2023. 

“This is our moment, Los Angeles! This is where we make our stand!” said AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler who joined the rally from Washington. D.C.  “There is only one way to fight back and that’s together with solidarity. The entire labor movement from the AFL-CIO to all of the unions here today, to everyone from the east coast to the west coast to everywhere in between, we have your back!”

During her remarks, WGAW President Meredith Stiehm acknowledged that, while our union is on strike for a fair contract, we have not walked the picket lines alone. She called out SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, AFM, the Teamsters and all the other unions who have expressed their support, many of whose members refused to cross WGA picket lines.
“Labor is rising,” Stiehm said. “We have your support because other workers see their struggle in our struggle. You’re also feeling marginalized, gigged out, pressed for as much work as possible for as little pay as possible, and it’s not right.”

Following Stiehm to the speaker’s podium, WGAW member Franki Butler told the crowd how hard she had worked to build a sustainable career in the industry and how difficult maintaining that living has now become.

“I have taken pay cuts just to be able to keep working,” said Butler, a WGAW strike captain as well as a member of the Guild’s Inclusion and Equity Group. “I have driven myself crazy with a month’s work in a week or two just because the studios wouldn’t pay me for more of my time. I have watched people who started when I started bust their asses only to watch the ladder to a reasonable career burst into flames the second they reach the first rung.”

It’s the studios who have put WGA writers in this position, Butler said, as they have continued to chase already record profits while figuring that nobody, including the unions, could do anything to stop them.

“Well, we told them exactly what we’re going to do. We struck,” Butler said. “It was a hard decision, and it was the right decision.”

Reinforcing the spirit of unity, Stiehm also promised that solidarity fromL.A.’s unions will be reciprocated when other unions take to the streets in the upcoming months.

“When it’s your turn, we will be there with you,” she said. “I don’t think the bosses knew what they were up against when they failed to listen to us, but they should look at this crowd and this unity, and if they didn’t know, well, now they know. Union now, union forever! Let’s go!”

Check out the speeches of Meredith Stiehm, Franki Butler, Teamsters Vice President Lindsay Dougherty, and SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland.

Packing the streets in solidarity. Photo by Brittany Woodside.

See Photos from The Unions Strike Back Rally

Aspiring Writers Mix It Up on the Picket Lines

(L-R) Jennifer Kim, Jelena Woehr and Kim Hornsby of WGA Mix at the Paramount picket lines.

They carry signs and load up the gates, going wherever and whenever they are needed to help the striking WGA writers in their fight for a fair contract. Some of them are already members of other unions. They are not members of the WGA yet, but hope they will be one day.

“We’re happy to have an opportunity to support the WGA because everybody in our community hopes to someday be a member,” said Jelena Woehr, speaking at a recent picket at Paramount.

Woehr is an aspiring writer who left the tech industry after ten years to pursue her dream of working in film and TV. She has worked on scripted audio projects for Disney, as well as Kim Kardashian’s true crime podcast.

“I’m hoping to get into a TV room once this strike ends,” she said.

Working at Universal early in the strike, showrunner assistant Christina Dirkes contends that WGA writers and non-members like herself who are working in the industry face many of the same obstacles presented by a broken system.

“I have only been on streaming shows where we end the room and then everyone is laid off,” said Dirkes. “I don’t get to see post-production or production. Every 20 weeks, I’m looking for a job. It usually ends up being months, and we don’t get paid that much. What we’re going through is essentially our fate if the WGA doesn’t step in and get the deal that it needs.”

Four years ago, Woehr started a Discord group made up of non-WGA members to show support for the WGA during the agency campaign. Although not formally affiliated with the WGA, the group known as WGA Mix got together to network and often invited WGA members as special guests. The group held regular events at All Season Brewing Company under the leadership of Woehr and Joseph Mwamba. As the pandemic shut down the industry, the group became WGA Virtual Mix, hosting their events digitally.

During the lead-up to the WGA strike, the Mix-ers saw another opportunity to be of service. With more than 2,500 people now in their ranks, they have offered their assistance at the picket lines in whatever ways they are needed, whether by populating certain gates,  or even deploying their “honk squad” to get passing motorists to sound off.

“I’m doing everything logistically possible that I can for folks,” said Woehr. “We’ve sent people to run snacks and water as needed. There are lots of people who have said, ‘Call or text me when the WGA needs anything and, if I possibly can, I’ll drop everything I can to be there.’”

Last week, the WGA Mix members deployed in force to picket at Paramount, with more than 260 RSVPs, including several from people who came in from out of town. They followed the Paramount picket with a celebratory get-together at All Season that – combined with a WGAE event – took over the bar. The event included a raffle of more than a dozen $100 Ralph’s gift cards that the group collected to help their members who have been affected by the strike.

“We have a lot of assistants in the group, and a lot of assistants have been laid off, furloughed or had their hours cut because of the strike,” said Woehr. “Joe wanted to help out folks who might be having trouble affording basic needs right now, but are still coming out and supporting the WGA.”

Mwamba, who came down with COVID in the days before the picket, had to sit out the meet-up, but he was serenaded by attendees during a FaceTime call.

Check out photos from the WGA Mixer picket at Paramount and meet-up at All Season in Thursday's photo gallery.

Post-picketing WGA Mix-ers at All Season.