Standing Shoulder to Shoulder with Janitors
The streets in front of Amazon Studios were a sea of color Thursday as a crush of marchers in purple and red T-shirts mixed with the blue-shirted WGAW picketers in a rainbow of solidarity.
The purple and red shirts belonged to the members of SEIU United Service Workers West (USWW), who celebrated the 33rd anniversary of the union’s Justice for Janitors movement by joining WGA writers on the picket line. Following a rally in Veteran’s Park across the street from Sony Pictures, the USWW displayed their banners and sounded their drums as they marched past Sony into downtown Culver City, ending up at Amazon. Along the way, they were met by a contingent of picketing writers, as well as WGAW, leadership who joined the march.
“You guys know how to put on a rally,” WGAW President Meredith Stiehm told the assembled crowd from the stage atop a flatbed truck in front of the studio on Washington Boulevard. “Thank you, janitors, for letting us be part of your day and for coming to be part of ours. Your leader has told me that when you create crisis you win, and that’s what we’re doing. Thank you for the advice.”
In 1990, janitors launched a strike in Century City that helped low-wage workers achieve union representation and won better compensation and working conditions. Over the ensuing decades, the Justice for Janitors movement has spread across the country, and as USWW President David Huerta pointed out, janitors throughout California and in major cities across the country are now enjoying the benefits of that struggle.
“On June 15 of 1990, the janitors were beaten and left blood on the streets of Century City,” said Huerta. “But because of that day, we celebrate that day. Because of that day, janitors have a better standard of living.”
“So we stand today, shoulder to shoulder with screenwriters who started this strike seven weeks ago to demand not only to maintain their standards but to continue to move forward,” Huerta continued. “We have to stand together, across language, across color, across differences, all of us.”
The solidarity between the janitors and striking WGA writers is strengthened by a common struggle: AMPTP studios including Sony, Amazon, and Radford have laid off several dozen USWW janitors citing the strike. Adelina Barragan, one of the speakers at the rally, has colleagues who lost their jobs.
“The janitors here need respect. We are a force that is essential for the economy to progress," Barragan said. "I want all the writers here to know that the janitors stand with you in solidarity. Keep fighting."
Union Strippers Takeover
The endless creativity that striking writers have been displaying on the picket lines over the past seven weeks has felt familiar to Nicole Feste. A WGAW member since 2022 and a newly appointed strike captain at Warner Bros., Feste has spent eight months turning the picket line into a party outside the Star Garden Topless Bar as part of an organizing effort for the other union of which she is a member, Equity Strippers NoHo (ESN).
“We picketed for eight months outside the strip club in the wee hours of night during operating hours and we made a party on the sidewalk,” Feste told a group of supporters who gathered at Warner Bros Studios for the Union Strippers Takeover picket Thursday. “We made that sidewalk our strip club, and we made it more entertaining to picket with us then to go inside the club.”
ESN is the group of Star Garden workers who, with their collective vote in May to unionize with Actors Equity Association, became the first strippers union to organize in 25 years. Although her work at the Star Garden is one of several “side hustles” that Feste has taken on while trying to build her career in the industry, the organizing of workers in strip clubs has become a passion and something she hopes to do.
On the film and TV side of her career, Feste went to film school and eventually followed a path that took her from a writer’s PA to a showrunner’s assistant to a writer’s assistant and ultimately to writing episodes of the Warner Bros. series All Rise.
“So I was able to do the whole traditional work-my-way-up-the-ladder and get thrown a couple of freelance scripts,” she said, “and it’s funny, those residuals have been the things that have kept me afloat when I’ve been primarily doing this kind of labor organizing with the strip club.”
Feste hopes for a day to come when the salaries for writing reach a level so that the gaps between jobs don’t leave her on the brink.
“Between seasons, it’s usually been six months for me,” Feste said. “So as a writer’s assistant who is paid even a fraction of what writers are paid, to have to live off that in that amount of time, it’s just completely unmanageable without getting another job.”
Feste has noticed the unique side hustles that fellow workers have undertaken to make ends meet. Contrary to some people’s perception, not all writers earn a comfortable living. That was the message that she hoped Thursday’s strippers solidarity picket helped deliver.
“I just want to say that this kind of visibility is important, and that sex workers are all around you in the entertainment industry, and we’re all trying to stay afloat,” Feste told the crowd. “We want sex workers across the country to get rights so that they have the health and well being to do things like write that sample that’s going to get them into the Guild and have the space to be able to pursue their own dreams.”
Anybody In From Out of Town?
Not even a month after her graduation from Rowan University in New Jersey, aspiring writer-director Laura Carter hopped a plane for Los Angeles to support the WGA writers on the line. Instructors had discussed the strike in Carter’s film studies and media industries classes, and Carter wanted to lend her support to WGA writers in person. As her sign stated, “this is my origin story.”
Carter’s only acquaintance in the area was her friend since high school, Indi Ebo, an actress who lives in Irvine. Together they packed as many pickets as possible into Carter’s three days in town.
“I have to support my people. They need to get fair wages,” Carter said. “I’m going to be a part of them, so I’m fighting for my future, and for theirs as well.”
“I took the swing and said, I might as well come out and support, and see who I would be working with in the future,” she added. “It’s important."