Writers on the Line

On the Line
Strike Well and Prosper
The Star Trek Snack Squad reaches out from around the planet to help supply the strike lines, the WGA sounds off about media consolidation, and one member’s travels from the West End to Minnesota to picketing at Paramount
Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Strike Well, Hydrate, and Prosper

A Star Trek-themed solidarity cooling scarves supplied by The Star Trek Snack Squad. 

From bagels to donuts, from Gatorade to coffee, from water to cooling scarves…when picketing writers and actors have needed it, the Star Trek Snack Squad has supplied it.

Since the start of our strike on May 2, demonstrations of support have poured in from across the globe. Some of it has gone directly to the picket lines, others to relief organizations. When longtime Star Trek fan Claire Willett decided she wanted to help, she thought to help people associated with that franchise.

Paramount Studios, where the series are produced, was an easy choice for a food delivery. But then the effort grew as other fans started sending supplies first to Disney where Star Trek: Discovery writer Carlos Cisco is a Lot Coordinator, and later to TV City, where Star Trek: Strange New Worlds writer-producer Bill Wolkoff is a Lot Coordinator. In the early days of the strike, the squad also made regular deliveries to NBCUniversal, not because there was any Star Trek connection, but because that lot seemed to need a boost.

“Claire and the Trekkies have never once been less enthusiastic or responsive in getting supplies to non-Trek people,” said Paramount Lot Coordinator Haley Harris. “That their love for Trek could compel them to create this incredible system – and then include all writers in their generosity – is a true testament to the kind of people they are.” 

With every passing day, the ranks of Star Trek Snack Squad grew, with the Portland Oregon-based Willett coordinating the effort and leading a group of more than 100 volunteers determined to given their time, organizational skills or financial help for as long as the strike lasts. From Europe to Canada to across the U.S., whether they can give $20 on a certain day or Venmo a few bucks to a non-WGA member hydration fund, volunteers have shown their support.  

“I think there are a lot of people who wanted to find some small, concrete way to feel like they were doing something beyond just, ‘I’m Tweeting and posting about this. I’m educating my friends,’” said Willett, a playwright, novelist, and grant writer. “They want to know if there is something else they can do just to show these people who are on strike that they have community support. I’ve been really surprised and pleased at how many people have been excited to participate.”

Willett and her volunteers have been in regular contact with lot captains to gauge what kinds of donations would be most helpful on a given day or week. When the weather turned hot, the STSS pivoted to ice, water, and cold drinks. When SAG-AFTRA joined the lines, the Snack Squadron amped up its output to make sure there was enough to cover the expanded numbers.

The squad has gotten creative for special occasions, donating an ice cream truck and 400 popsicles for a May 19 Star Trek-themed picket at Paramount. On the day that the finale of Strange New Worlds aired, they dropped off more than 200 Star Trek-themed cooling scarves at the studios.

“Claire Willett and the Star Trek Snack Squad epitomize the unwavering public support we’ve felt on the picket lines,” said Wolkoff. “Every time something new arrived it was another shot in the arm and a reminder that we are not alone in our fight, that we have, dare I say, a Federation of solidarity behind us.”

Although Willett is not a screenwriter or TV writer, she has many friends in the Guild and has followed the strike closely. She sees applications within the issues the Guild is striking over to many other professions.

“I think artists are consistently undervalued in every medium, and our work is often not dignified as work that is worth paying us our value,” Willett said. “It really feels like this is a watershed moment where a win or a loss would have profound cascading effects across all creative sectors. For a lot of folks, there is so little we can do about the chokehold that capitalism and addiction to what is new and shiny, what is cheap and easy, and how that penalizes artists and creative people and community. It affects everything in our lives.”

“And for me both as an advocate, and on behalf of the people that I do know who are explicitly affected by this,” she continued, “it’s important to me to feel like, ‘How would I want somebody to stand up for me if the positions were reversed?’”

Star Trek Snack Squad organizer Claire Willett

ICYMI: Sounding Off Against Media Consolidation

The WGA continues to add its voice to the thousands of people across diverse industries who are impacted by the effects of corporate consolidation. The mergers of media companies within the film and television industry – from AT&T-Time Warner to Warner Bros.-Discovery to Amazon-MGM to Disney-Fox – have consolidated the power of employers and harmed writers, leading to many of the issues that are at the root of our strike. Last week, the WGAW published a new report The New Gatekeepers: How Disney, Amazon, and Netflix Will Take Over Media, which details how these three companies have amassed power through anticompetitive practices.

Federal regulatory agencies are paying attention to arguments WGAW and other organizations have been making for years about the need for stronger antitrust enforcement. Proposed changes to merger guidelines proposed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are giving weight to the ways that mergers can be harmful and are directing agencies and courts to consider the potential effects on workers.

Lend your voice, WGA! Tell the FCC and DOJ what you think about media consolidation by submitting a public comment on the draft guidelines by September 18th.

Recently, WGAW Research and Public Policy Director Laura Blum-Smith spoke at a hearing titled “Breaking Down the New Merger Guidelines,” sponsored by American Economic Liberties Project, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Common Future, Demand Progress, Economic Security Project, Farm Action, Future of Music Coalition, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Main Street Alliance, Minnesota Farmers Union, National Community Pharmacists Association, Open Markets Institute, Small Business Majority, UFCW 770 and WGAW.
“Companies like Disney, Amazon, and Netflix gained power through anti-competitive consolidation and vertical integration, and they have used their leverage to undervalue writers and writing even as they make billions off writers’ work,” Blum-Smith said. “These conditions became so dire and employers so unresponsive to writers’ concerns that writers had no choice but to strike over these issues. In the framework of the guidelines, this is what inadequate labor market competition looks like.”
Watch Blum-Smith’s testimony starting at 41:12.

From the West End to Minnesota to Paramount

WGAW members Kristen Gura Fickman and Andy Fickman at Paramount.

While he was in London, checking on the musical stage productions he was directing, Andy Fickman received regular updates from the front lines of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes.

“I’ve spent the past few months texting my strike captain, ‘Update me! Update me!’” said Fickman, a WGAW and DGA member who directed the West End and touring production of Heathers: The Musical. “We just got back a few weeks ago.”

Home for Fickman and his wife, WGAW and SAG-AFTRA member Kristen Gura Fickman, is Minnesota where they moved during the pandemic. But out of a desire to march in solidarity with their fellow writers and actors, the Fickmans had barely unpacked their bags from London before hopping a plane to L.A.

“It’s everything that we expected and hoped for,” Andy said from the picket lines at Paramount shortly after the 100th day of the WGA strike. “For both of these amazing unions, having their voice heard is so crucial.”

Streaming residuals, the regulation of AI, and mini-rooms are among the key issues that the Fickmans hope will be addressed in the Guild’s next MBA.

“When you get older in this industry – and I’ve been in Hollywood since 1998 – those residuals are what help you to keep going,” said Andy, who directed the films Playing with Fire and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 as well as series Kevin Can Wait and The Crew. “To see those shrink, to see everything else shrink… the people who put their blood, sweat and tears into these series should have the ability to have a sustainable life.”

“This has been my dream forever, and I have put so much work into it,” added Kristen, “and now it feels like there’s a possibility of it being taken away. It’s so important to fight.’

A WGAW member since 2006, Andy Fickman grew up with union values. His older brother Bruce is a labor attorney who has worked with unions across the country including – most recently – steel workers in Pittsburgh.

“So labor and the right of the workers has been all that I have been raised and brought up on, and it resonates when you find your union in these situations,” said Andy. “Growing up and hearing those stories about why people were striking – for health care, for things that we would consider hopefully would be normal – if you asked anyone in the world, they should just say, ‘Yes! People should get that.’”