Writers on the Line

On the Line
MEWC, Electeds and Trekkies on the Line
Support for the WGA continues to grow as Reps. Adam Schiff, Barbara Lee, and Nanette Barragan join writers on the lines
Monday, May 22, 2023

Members of Congress on the Line

Rep. Adam Schiff joined WGA leadership and picketers at Paramount Studios. Photo: Brittany Woodside
The support from Washington for WGA members in our fight for a fair contract continues to mount as an increasing number of elected officials are standing up for writers.

Several of these supporters are taking time to join WGA members on the picket lines and meet with Guild leadership. They arrive with words of encouragement and the willingness to talk to members, pick up a sign and walk the lines.

Friday’s picket lines saw a visit from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-30th District) to Paramount Studios followed by appearances by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-12th District) and Rep. Nanette Barragan (D-44th District) to Amazon.

Schiff kicked off his remarks with a strike chant and later introduced his brother, David McMillan, who is a WGAW member.

“A big part of the reason why our democracy is at risk is that the economy simply hasn’t been working for millions of people,” said Schiff during his remarks. “At a time when unemployment is historically low, the problem is not that people aren’t working. The problem is they are working, but they’re not making enough to get by.”

Schiff acknowledged that the work of writers helped get the nation through the COVID pandemic. Without writers, he said, there are no heroes nor villains, “there is nothing but static.”

“What are you asking for except fair wages, to be able to share in the profits of a very profitable industry and to continue to do the work that you love,” he said. “That is not too much to ask.”

At Amazon, Reps. Lee and Barragan – during separate visits to the picket line – also acknowledged their appreciation both of writers and of organized labor in general.

“I come from a union family, and I’ve seen first-hand what it means when you’re part of a union and standing together in solidarity with others,” said Barragan. “When we stand together, we get more done and we are able to then achieve reasonable wages. That’s what we’re trying to do here: just ask for what people deserve and nothing more.”

Lee, whose initial work with unions was with the United Farm Workers, urged the writers to continue to fight against mega-corporations. A long-time supporter of unions, she declared organized labor to be at a crossroads.

“We see union-busting all over the country with these corporations, but yet you see companies bringing in more people who want to unionize,” said Lee. “As labor unions become stronger and workers receive the benefits of belonging to unions, you see the corporate bosses get nervous and try to stop it. I think that’s where we are right now, and that’s why this is so important.”

Lee acknowledged the specific struggles that writers are facing within the entertainment industry.

“Writers are the key to everything,” she said. “Without writers, there would be no industry.”

To see a full list of the public officials supporting writers, click here.

See Photos from Friday's Picket Lines

Showing Some Middle Eastern Might at Universal

Picketers with the Middle Eastern Writers Committee at Universal.
Members of WGAW’s Middle Eastern Writers Committee (MEWC), which formed during the pandemic, are now happy to meet each other on the picket lines.

The MEWC has held pickets at Netflix and Universal with more to come. “While we have been striking is actually the most we’ve ever been around each other, so it’s been great,” said Cameron Ali Fay who co-chairs the committee with Paiman Kalayeh.

According to the 2020 WGAW Inclusion Report, Middle Eastern writers represented .3% of total writer employment.

“Our mission is basically that if we boost that number behind the camera, hopefully we can also boost a positive representation in front of the camera,” said Kalayeh.

Former classmates at NYU, Fay and Kalayeh had tried to organize a group of Middle Eastern writers in the early 2010s, but encountered challenges because at the time there was no easy way to track who was Middle Eastern in the membership. When they tried again in 2020, data collection had been updated, and a search in 2020 pulled up more than 60 members who self-identified as Middle Eastern. Fay and Kalayeh reached out to all of them, and the group held its first meeting over Zoom. In the years since its formation, the MEWC has more than doubled in size.
“The mini-room thing affects us all,” said Kalayeh. “We’re all union and we’re all in this together, but our group and all underrepresented groups within the WGA will especially benefit from achieving a fair deal. The pipeline is being cut off, which is a fact that affects our members as far as access and the ability to hire diverse and alternative voices.”

Interviewed on the Universal picket line, writer-producer Reza Aslan says the committee has seen some progress in representation of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) stories and of the people who tell them. Aslan noted that several of the writers on the picket line during the MEWC picket qualified for their WGA card on the series The United States of Al.

“We’ve been working tirelessly to create an entire generation of writers from the MENA region who can actually tell stories that are interesting, that are real and true and that avoid the simple stereotypes that Middle Easterners have been facing in Hollywood for decades,” said Aslan.

“For us, the first fight is obviously for fairness and equity for all writers," he added, "but we have this second challenge, which is to make sure that this core that we have just now created actually has an opportunity to become what we envision it will become. I think that’s going to be good for the industry, good for the studios and good for this next generation of consumers who are desperate to see people on screen like them and see stories that sound real and familiar to them.”

See photos from the MEWC picket in Thursday’s photo gallery.

Boldly Going to the Picket Lines

(L-R) Bill Wolfkoff, Kiley Rossetter and Carlos Cisco, organizers of the Star Trek-themed picket at Paramount.
The community of WGA Star Trek writers expands with the introduction of each series. Star Trek writers came out in solidarity during the 2007-08 strike, and it was a foregone conclusion that they would make their presence felt during the 2023 strike.

That day happened Friday at Paramount Pictures during a massive Star Trek-themed picket that drew writers, actors and members of the series’ fanbase. Even Rep. Adam Schiff paid a visit, concluding his remarks in support of the striking writers with a directive cribbed from Mr. Spock that the AMPTP should “live long and pay up.”

The idea originated with Kiley Rossetter–an executive story editor on Star Trek: Picard–who discovered that, since the strike began, she was encountering writers and crew from a Star Trek series at every picket line she visited. Why not bring them all together? WGA Strike captains and Star Trek: Discovery writers Bill Wolkoff and Carlos Cisco jumped on the idea and, with a lot of help and a lot of good will, they ran with the idea and made it so.

Beginning their planning and outreach at the outset of the strike, the event organizers contacted writers, cast and crew members from all of the series, from the original all the way through the current shows. When the day arrived, some showed up in costume, others with paraphernalia and many with signs that had series-specific memes or messages.

“We have an exponentially larger community and family in Star Trek now, with five-ish shows on the air or leaving the air, and we have so much cast and crew that is now a part of that family too,” said Cisco. “For me, getting to see this cross- generational event where people from the newest shows are going to be meeting writers from the original series…there’s something really special and powerful in that.”

“This labor action affects everybody in entertainment, not just writers,” added Wolkoff, “Everybody in the Star Trek family wants to be there for everybody in our WGA family and for all of the people who are displaced by this labor action, not just the writers, but everybody in the community.”

Like many of his fellow Star Trek series writers, Eric Robbins fell in love with the series at an early age and said that watching early episodes kindled his desire to become a writer himself. Robbins, who worked on Star Trek: Discovery, took it upon himself to send memes around and print them up for signs. Growing up in rural Arkansas and feeling like a misfit, Robbins saw in Star Trek, a way to view himself in a new light.

“The show had a mentality that I wanted to see humanity and others embrace,” he said. “My parents were Trekkies and they had  me watching the original series. I was drawing pictures of the Enterprise when I was in 2nd grade. It’s always been this thing that just captured my imagination.”

And at an event replete with WGA strike captains, the picketers received a visit from an actual Federation captain: actor Scott Bakula, who played Captain Jonathan Archer for four seasons on Star Trek: Enterprise.

“I’ve always been a big supporter of writers, and I support them for having the guts to do this,” said Bakula. “I wish the strike wasn’t happening, and I wish we would get down to business and solve this, but in the end, this is what’s important, and I support them 100 percent.”