Writers on the Line

On the Line
Solidarity Takes Wing
Unions around the country gather for the WGA & SAG-AFTRA National Day of Solidarity, the Nonfiction Coalition brings their unionizing fight to Paramount, and Double union TAG-teaming with Len Uhley
Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Solidarity Outside the House of Mouse

Martin Sheen and the cast of The West Wing at the National Day of Solidarity Rally at Disney. 

On Day 113 of the WGA strike, Guild members stood side-by-side with striking SAG-AFTRA members and representatives of several other sibling unions in a nationwide show of unity.

The National Day of Solidarity, co-sponsored by the AFL-CIO in cities across the United States Tuesday, included a rally outside Disney Studios in Burbank that drew thousands of allies. Keystone Street on the side of the studio lot was closed to traffic for the rally, allowing thousands of attendees from multiple unions to hear the speakers.

Leaders from all the entertainment unions – writers, actors, musicians, crew members, Teamsters, and laborers – all urged attendees to stay strong and keep standing together.

“One of the foundational principles that you are fighting for is preserving a living wage and that fight is more important than ever,” said Yvonne Wheeler, president of the L.A. County Federation of Labor. “The winds and rains of a hurricane couldn’t dampen this hot labor summer, so I know the studios don’t stand a chance.”

SAG-AFTRA Secretary-Treasurer Joely Fisher served as the MC, and the event included speeches from multiple actors and guild leaders, including SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA Executive Vice President Ben Whitehair; SAG-AFTRA Negotiating Committee member Sean Astin; The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel star Rachel Brosnahan, and Scandal star and producer Kerry Washington. Actor Ron Perlman delivered remarks as fiery as his infamous Instagram post in response to a Deadline article where it was suggested that the studios were looking to force striking writers into becoming homeless.

Other speakers included IATSE 4th International Vice President and Department Director of Motion Picture & Television Production Mike Miller; LiUNA! Studio Utility Employees Local 724 Business Manager/Secretary-Treasurer Alex Aguilar; Teamsters Local 399 Secretary-Treasurer Lindsay Dougherty, and AFM Local 47 President Stephanie O’Keefe.

The rally also included a reunion of political drama The West Wing, as several of the show’s cast members took turns at the mic delivering words of unity. Series star Martin Sheen, noting that he both joined SAG-AFTRA and got married in 1961, said “clearly I have a fondness for unions.”

“There’s so much going on in our country. It is so dangerously divided, and very often we come to gatherings like these, we’re inspired because we see the effectiveness of unionism and unity,” Sheen told the crowd.

During her speech, WGAW Board member Liz Hsiao Lan Alper remarked how the support and momentum for the strike continue to grow. When the studios walked away from the negotiating table, Alper said, they did not count on the WGA’s support from multiple unions or for SAG-AFTRA to join us on the picket lines.

“Picketing is hard, mentally and physically, and on some days, the fight feels endless,” Alper said, “but writers are done being treated like crap by our so-called partners. We have come too far to settle for a contract that does not fix what the studios and streamers have broken.”

“The studios thought power was a finite resource, but we have grown a supply that can rival theirs through the solidarity we have nurtured between our unions and between our collective memberships,” Alper continued. “That power will continue to grow as we continue to work alongside one another.”

Alper’s words of unity were echoed by DGA Secretary-Treasurer Paris Barclay, also a member of SAG-AFTRA and WGAW.

“I continue to support you and continue to stand in solidarity with SAG-AFTRA and the WGA,” Barclay said. “It’s not enough that one of us has a meal on the table. Until everybody gets a meal on the table, nobody eats.”

WGAW Board of Directors member Liz Hsiao Lan Alper.

Non-Fiction Writers Coalition

Nonfiction Coalition members Priya Hubbard and Jenni Daniel on the picket line at Paramount.

The striking film and TV writers of the WGA are by no means the only scribes who see the value of a contract that guarantees the sustainability of the profession.

Last week, a group of documentary and reality series writers with the Nonfiction Coalition came to Paramount Studios to join the picket line alongside the actors and WGA writers. Members of the NC are not yet unionized, but they hope to ultimately reach that goal, and many of them have labor organizing in their history.

“We’re hoping to grow our base with everyone who is on the picket line here today,” said NC member Jenni Daniel. “Everyone across the country may not know about our mission yet, but we’ll see.”

Expressing their solidarity and hope that the WGA wins improved working conditions in its next MBA, Daniel and fellow NC member Priya Hubbard pointed out that their members and WGA writers often work for the same corporations against whom the Guild is striking.

“We know what they’re like,” Daniel said. “We experience budget crunches, schedule tightening, and staff shortages. We’ve had all of that, and what happens with scripted affects us as well.”

As a documentary producer, Hubbard has also noticed the effects of shrinking staff.

“They’re taking away our assistants,” said Hubbard. “They’re making it so I’m working 16-hour days, seven  days a week, and for free on most of those days. I took the day off to picket today. I’m not getting paid for it because I don’t get sick leave. I don’t get days off. I’m here because I’m scared that these companies are trying to do to the writers and actors what they have done to us.”

Double Union TAG-Teaming with WGAW's Len Uhley

WGAW and TAG member Len Uhley at NBCUniversal

As the picket shift wrapped up during a recent Tuesday at NBCUniversal’s Barham gate, Len Uhley – carrying a WGA strike sign and wearing a T-shirt from The Animation Guild (TAG) IATSE 839 – declared himself proud to be among the ranks of both unions which had spent the morning marching side-by-side during a TAG-WGA solidarity picket.

“The studios aren’t valuing the people who make their livelihoods possible,” said Uhley, a WGAW member for 47 years and a TAG member for 37. “We’re the people who create what they call ‘content,’ which is a horrible word, and without us, they’re in the parking lot business.”

This is spoken with the wit of a sitcom writer, which Uhley fully planned to be. But fate had different plans, and Uhley spent the majority of his career writing in animation, sometimes under a freelance WGA contract, other times under TAG. He is a Primetime Emmy-award winner, a four-time Daytime Emmy Award nominee, and 2014 recipient of WGAW’s Animation Writers Caucus Animation Writing Award.

His strike sign details an intriguing biography of a writer who joined the WGAW at the age of 21 and participated in strikes in 1981, 1985, 1988, 2007 and 2023. Underneath is a quote from Captain America: “I can do this all day.”

Uhley was a junior at UCLA when he watched a show titled Holmes and Yoyo and thought he could dream up a story for the series. He requested – and received – a copy of the series’ pilot and submitted his idea. Two days later, he heard back from the story editor who said, ‘I’m going to make your weekend.’ They produced Uhley’s story, combining it with material written by another writer.

“Some guy named John Landis,” Uhley said. “I don’t know whatever happened to him.”

The script got Uhley into the WGAW. He followed that with a series format option. “So I’m graduating college, and I have two sales, and I say to myself, ‘Hey, this is going to be easy,’” Uhley said. “And then there was three years of radio silence.”

Uhley bounced around working as a writers’ assistant, occasional episodic, corporate and industrial films. On one of the corporate films, he connected with an actor who was a voice actor on a Gummi Bears series for Disney. Uhley wrote a freelance episode and then ended up on staff.

The rest, as they say, is history, with Uhley working consistently on dozens of animated series and video games from the Marvel and DC universes, from Static Shock to Robocop.

“I was a precocious and struggling sitcom writer, and then I was an animation writer, and that’s how I’ve been earning a nice middle class living for 37 years,” he said. “I’m here today because these people need to have their version of these opportunities. They need to be able to make a nice living, have a place to live, raise a family and all that stuff that I fear won’t be available to them.”