Writers on the Line

On the Line
Solidarity Scores
The NFLPA and USNWPA picket at Fox, a Mad Men reunion at Netflix, and a college professor’s brings some Bay Area solidarity to Universal
Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Solidarity On and Off The Field

(L-R) WGA Negotiating Committee Co-Chair Chris Keyser, WGAW Vice President Michele Mulroney, WGAW President Meredith Stiehm, USNWPA Executive Director Becca Roux, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith and WGAW member and NFLPA General Counsel and Head of Business Affairs Sean Sansiveri at Fox. 

At Tuesday’s Sports Solidarity picket at Fox Studios, WGA picketers were joined by DeMaurice Smith and Becca Roux, executive directors of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association (USWNTPA) respectively. Roux came from Denver and Smith came from Washington D.C.

Roux, who led the negotiations that led to the USWNTPA players achieving equal pay with their male counterparts, expressed the importance of unity across organized labor. 

“The U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association is a unionized workforce, and we stand with all workers including the writers,” said Roux of her membership. “I think part of both of our messages is that we all benefit from the entertainment that exists in this world, and that wouldn’t be in existence without writers. Similar to our work, the product on the field wouldn’t exist without our players.”

In his more than 14 years leading the NFLPA, Smith has often heard the statement – familiar to writers – that the industry they work in is a wealthy one, and there should be enough money to go around. Shouldn’t the two sides – owners and players, studios and writers – be able to figure things out?

“The answer is yes,” said Smith, “but what we know from American history, from the Civil Rights struggle to the history of voting rights struggle for women, is that there is always a fair place to land. But what landing spot doesn’t come without a fight? It never has.”

In talking to WGAW President Meredith Stiehm, Smith learned that it is harder to get into the WGA than it is to be drafted into the NFL or Major League Baseball.

“We have great jobs, great opportunities,” Smith said, “but there is a constant battle for fairness between management and labor, and what we know is that typically when revenue and profits go up, everybody starts to think about where can we cut labor. We’re here today to hopefully make sure that the good side wins.”

Also at the picket was WGAW member Sean Sansiveri, general counsel and head of business affairs for the NFLPA. The son of two teachers who studied collective bargaining at the Industrial Labor Relations School, Sansiveri called the perseverance of his fellow writers inspiring.

“Nothing happens in favor of workers without unions,” said Sansiveri. “That’s certainly true in the NFL and in other professional sports unions, and it’s definitely true for the WGA. Most businesses, when you think of salaries and profits going up, you think that worker benefits and payments go up too. But that’s not true. It goes up with the help of the union. That’s the only way it ultimately gets done.”

See Photos from Tuesday's Picket Lines

Mad Men on the Line

Writers and cast members of Mad Men at Netflix. 

As they assembled for a reunion picket at Netflix, the writers of the long-running AMC series Mad Men may have been plenty “mad” over the circumstances that have driven WGA writers to the picket lines, but they were also delighted to see each other again, nine years after the conclusion of their show.

Series creator Matt Weiner, who has seen many of the show's former staff members on the picket lines since the strike began, noted that several of the people who were on the series as writers’ assistants have since joined the Guild and, in some cases, became showrunners themselves.

“That guy right there, he was an intern and now he’s a showrunner,” Weiner said, introducing Robert Funke, who went from being an intern/researcher on Mad Men’s sixth season to co-creating and showrunning On Becoming a God in Central Florida for Showtime. “In fairness, he was in film school.”

The fact that writers have to strike to get a fair deal is depressing, Weiner said, but he fully expects the WGA to win its battle with the studios.

“It’s a respect issue for me,” Weiner said. “I’m just like, ‘You want to do this. It’s going to hurt. I know you don’t think it’s going to hurt, or you’re going to tell people it’s not going to hurt. You’re going to tell people how rich we are and then announce your salaries the week before we go out?’”

“The show was about the underdog and about fairness,” he continued. “A lot of our story was like how did we end up here? How did that happen. What needs to change? Or are we aware even that it hasn’t changed?”

Funke chatted with Mad Men producer Michael Saltzman, who had been one of his instructors at USC. Saltzman got Funke the interview that landed him his job on the series.

“One of the thrills of teaching is seeing your students go on and do stuff, and Robert was one of the real success stories,” said Saltzman, noting that he had seen several of his former students, now full-fledged Guild members, on the lines. “But the fantasy of one day hiring them on staff goes out the window because they’re all executive producers in two years.”

Series cast member Christina Hendricks showed up in solidarity for the show’s writers.

“I’m lucky enough to come from a show that had the best writing ever, I think,” said Hendricks. "So without them, we would never have had that extraordinary show, and they should be acknowledged and they should be paid, and they should be compensated for it.”

“It’s been plenty of years where the networks and studios have gotten plenty, so I’m always going to have the writers’ backs. They helped change my life, and I think everybody needs to know how important they are.”

Mad Men Creator Matt Weiner and producer Michael Saltzman at Netflix.

From the Line to Organizing Training

AFT 2121 external political organizer Erik Christianson at Universal.

With a little time to kill before the start of his organizer training session, Bay Area college professor Erik Christianson took a walk and found himself in front of the Citywalk gate at Universal Studios among a group of picketing WGA writers.
Christianson asked what he could do to help, and was told he would be welcome to grab a sign and join the marchers. Which the external political organizer for AFT Local 2121 was more than happy to do.

“As a teacher, I don’t have a lot of money to give,” said Christianson, "but joining the picket, I can do that.”

Christianson emphasized that he very much stands with striking WGA writers. As an adjunct faculty member who teaches communications and media studies at City College of San Francisco, San Francisco State University, the University of San Francisco and the College of San Mateo, Christianson knows how susceptible part-time workers can be to exploitation. Adjunct faculty at schools nationwide are waging their own battles over fair contracts.
“I heard a really great piece on NPR about what’s going on with the WGA and it really touched me,” Christianson said. “The writers are the people who got us through the pandemic. Your writing and the work you did was amazing, and I really want to see you get a good contract. My heart goes out to everybody out here because it’s just so unfair.”

According to Christianson, when one considers the amount of money going into AMPTP studios, the amount of profits they are reaping compared to what writers earn for the amount of content they are producing, the unfairness comes sharply into focus.

“This whole system isn’t sustainable,” he said, “and I think you are all bearing the brunt of it in a very big way.”

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.

I had a spec optioned once with a rewrite. That "one-step" deal lasted 10 months and included five drafts that went directly into the studio (not counting the producer passes). It took a year after commencement to get health care—and I almost didn't qualify because the delay between commencement and delivery was so long.

Read the full story here.