Support Staff Picket
Members of writers’ rooms' support staff – including writers’ assistants, showrunners’ assistants, and script coordinators - have been walking the picket lines in solidarity with writers since the start of the strike. Tuesday was an opportunity to wish these important workers a much-deserved round of thanks.
Sponsored by the Writers Guild Foundation (WGF) and IATSE Local 871, the Writers’ Room Support Staff Appreciation Picket took place at Fox Studios after excessive heat caused the cancelation of pickets at the San Fernando Valley studios.
With more than 3,000 members, Local 871 covers workers in multiple below-the-line positions, two of which – writers’ assistants and script coordinators – directly support writers’ rooms. The shutdowns caused by the strike have left these workers unemployed, and they have joined striking writers and actors on the picket lines. More than 200 attended Tuesday’s picket at Fox.
“Most of us are writers who hope to be in the WGA one day, so we’re trying to be supportive,” said Local 871 Vice President Amy Hartman. “Local 871 isn’t on strike, but this is the first official joint activity that we have done.”
“There hasn’t been a really big opportunity to not only gather support staff at the same place, but to honor and appreciate them in the way they deserve,” added Kira VandenBrande, director of community programs for the WGF. “As much as they have been supporting writers during this strike, we want to show them we love them, and appreciate everything they have gone through as well.”
The writers’ assistants and script coordinators unionized under Local 871 in 2017 signing their first contract in 2018. Debbie Ezer helped organize that group and, in March of 2021, joined the WGAW. A Strike Captain at Fox, Ezer is also a co-instructor of the WGF’s Writers’ Access Support Staff Training Program, an initiative designed to help writers who are BIPOC, LGBTQ+, disabled, and over the age of 50 become writers’ assistants and script coordinators.
As a former attorney who reset her career and worked at all levels of support staff on her way to becoming a staff writer, Ezer calls support staff “integral parts of the writers’ room.”
“To use a sports analogy, I really see writers’ office support staff as the farm team for the writing staff,” said Ezer. “The writers’ assistants, script coordinators, showrunners assistants, and writers’ PAs add so much value, whether it be through the notes they provide, the continuity as well as being a presence in the writers’ room. Then there are support staff who are lucky to contribute with pitches and be part of story-building. That’s what support staff are all in it for.”
“In our class, my co-instructor and I repeat over and over that it’s the job of every person in a writers’ office – and particularly the support staff – to make the life of a showrunner easier and to make sure that you’re doing everything you can to help them fulfill their vision,” she continued. “When you can provide that support and make that happen, then you’re doing great work. So hopefully that is being appreciated here today.
A Call for Housing Justice
Representatives of housing advocacy organizations and faith-based advocacy groups were part of a Housing Justice Partners Solidarity picket. The group has often worked with unions on issues of tenant protection and homelessness prevention. Whether advocating on behalf of legislation or standing in unity with writers and actors’ battle against big corporations for a fair contract, homeless justice advocates are engaged in “a moral fight,” said Reverend Rae Huang, senior organizer at Housing Now!
“We believe very strongly that the stronger our unions are, the more likely we are to have better housing justice protections and laws,” said Huang, who was joined by members of the Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE). “We believe that people need wages to be able to pay for their housing, and that’s the only way we’re going to be able to stay housed and keep our families together.”
While spending time on the picket line, Huang cited the importance of the work of writers and actors, and also of organized labor, in championing the rights of workers.
“It’s powerful seeing so many people who are from all the different parts of the industry walking and working together, fighting for this same common desire to be able to thrive in what they do,” Huang said. “What the writers and actors do makes the world happier, thrive and makes us ask difficult questions. They need the support to be able to continue to do that.”
Bad to the Bone at Sony
“We just want to encourage you to keep going,” said Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston, a member of both WGAW and SAG-AFTRA. “We’re going to be out here with you, day to day, and we want to let the AMPTP know what it is we’re working for: a fair, decent, honest, equitable contract.”
Speaking during a reunion picket outside Sony – the studio that produced both shows – Cranston was diplomatic.
“They’re not villains,” Cranston said of the studio executives on the other side of the table. “These are people that we all will be working with once again at some point. We just want them to see reality and fairness and come back to the table, and talk to us. We may find that we have much more in common than they realize.”
Better Call Saul co-creator-showrunner and Breaking Bad executive producer Peter Gould praised the solidarity between both the two striking unions and the other creatives who have supported WGA and SAG-AFTRA. During his more than three months on the picket lines, Gould has been impressed by many of the members he has encountered.
“There’s a new younger generation of union member who are unashamed to be part of the labor movement, and they are bringing an energy to this that I think is really special,” Gould said. “I’m looking forward to them putting their energy into writing instead of into organizing.”