Writers on the Line

On the Line
Strikes Outside the Picket Lines
The WGA Strike Softball League builds solidarity, a casting director’s union uniform, and medical series writers unite at Disney
Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Not All "Stee-rikes!" Involve Picket Lines

The Goldfish of the WGA Strike Softball League.

Benji Kaufman was having a sleepless night, and this was well before his union, SAG-AFTRA, joined WGA writers on the picket lines. Kaufman had skipped going to a mixer, but he wanted to find another way to create some union camaraderie in a social or recreational setting.

Then an idea hit him that the actor-comedian turned into a home run.

“People always really bond over sports and getting together for some friendly competition,” said Kaufman, a frequent picket line walker who one day hopes to join the WGA. “So I thought what if I just got 20 or so people together and we played a softball game every so often.”

Other than organizing a friendly softball game to celebrate a birthday once, Kaufman had never previously formed a league. He circulated the idea on Twitter and put paper sign-up sheets at the picket line check-in stations. More than 90 people signed up to participate in the WGA Strike Softball League (WGASSL).

People such as Dana Quercioli, a WGAW member for a year and a half who had been looking to join a softball league.

“I was like, ‘Hell, yeah, I want to do that,’” said Quercioli. “Everybody has been really fun and welcoming, not taking it too seriously, but still playing their hardest. The first week we had blast. Our game ended in a tie and nobody cared.”

The six teams in the WGASSL meet every Thursday at Studio City’s Recreation Center for games at 6:30 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8:30 on two different fields. The games have to conclude in six innings or 70 minutes, whichever comes first. Kaufman set up the league through the Recreation Center, which maintains the fields and provides the umpires.

The players run the gamut from writers to actors, from crew to stuntmen, some union, others not. Not every player who signs up makes it to every game, so the teams maintain a list of alternates. There are people who are softball league veterans and others who have never played the game but thought it would be fun to grab a bat and take a few hacks.

“Pre-COVID, I was on NCIS: Los Angeles and we had a team in the primetime softball league,” said Adam Key, a WGAW staff writer and actor who manages the Goldfish. “I really enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship you get from doing this. It’s not the pros. Nobody’s getting paid. Everybody’s here because they want to bond, have fun, and kick it.”

The teams selected their own names, coming up with winners like the Inglorious Batters, Keyser’s Angels, the Free Draft Dodgers and the Studio City Stutzmans. 

“We’re kind of a menagerie, with WGA folks, actors, and non-members. We’re at different stages of the game, but it’s like we’re all at the same level here,” added Key. “One topic that doesn’t come up is, ‘How is the strike going for you? Are you doing OK? What do you think is going to happen?’ We’re not talking about that. So we get to have real moments with each other. It’s nice.”

WGA Strike Softball League organizer and team captain Benji Kaufman (center).

This is What Solidarity Looks Like: Support From Team Teamsters

Casting director Rebecca Mangieri and casting assistant Mindy Rengrudkij at Disney.

Rebecca Mangieri is proud to walk the picket lines in support of striking writers, and proud to wear the “uniform” of Teamsters Local 399.

Mangieri wore a modified baseball jersey that reads Teamsters 399 to picket at Disney Studios Tuesday. A casting director for more than 20 years, as well as an Emmy winner, Mangieri joined the union in 2006 when Local 399 took on casting directors, “and thank goodness they did,” she said. She’s out on the lines, helping however she can because she maintains that striking WGA members and the actors of SAG-AFTRA are making a stand for all workers.

“A lot of us haven’t worked since the end of last year because the studios have been closing ranks on the amount of shows they’re making, as opposed to the 2007-08 strike where everybody was pushed into production right up until the end,” said Mangieri whose recent credits include Perry Mason, Lucifer, and S.W.A.T. “This affects all of us.”

Mangieri has walked the picket lines since the writers put down their pencils on May 2, visiting various lines, dropping off cookies and “doing whatever we can.” On Tuesday at Disney, she met up with a WGA picket line first-time picketer, casting assistant Mindy Rengrudkij who hopes to move up the ranks to become a Teamster.

Although not yet a union member, Rengrudkij is still every bit a union supporter. Her parents were both proud members of UFCW, which allowed them to give their daughter a middle-class upbringing.

“Unions protect people, people at the lowest level of the union itself, people who have recently joined, and who don’t necessarily understand or know their rights,” Rengrudkij said. “The CBA of any union insures that you have better wages for the future and better wages for your retirement. My parents would not have been able to retire if it hadn’t been for their union.”

Agreed Mangieri, “I think unions protect people who are working their butts off, giving you what you deserve, giving you healthcare, and making you feel like you’re part of a community and not like you’re out there fighting against the machine by yourself.”

To the Picket Line Stat!

Medical series writers and cast at Disney. Photo by J.A. Hendricks

Doctors were in the “house” on the picket lines at Disney alongside striking WGA writers and SAG-AFTRA actors. Some of those very writers were, in fact, physicians with medical training and lengthy careers in medicine before they transitioned to careers in the entertainment industry.

The medical picket organized by writer-executive producer Elizabeth Klaviter brought the community of medical show genre writers from more than ten series to the picket line, giving writers, actors and, yes, even a few physicians-turned-writers the chance to get back together or meet for the first time.

Having written and produced on the long-running hit Grey’s Anatomy, Klaviter knows that medical series have made billions for their studios and feels that the writers who create those series deserve to share in the success.

“People I know dedicate their lives to creating these shows, working long hours, weekends, and not seeing their families,” said Klaviter, a writer and executive producer on So Help Me Todd. “I really feel that the creative entities involved in these shows should be compensated for their work in a way that protect their ability to live in Los Angeles, whether they be the actors who are now joining us or the writers.”

And should you believe that corporate greed is unique to the entertainment industry, WGAW members who worked in the medical profession are here to cure you of that misperception.

“We all want to be honored for the work we do and be paid commensurately,” said Paul Puri, a physician psychiatrist who is currently a co-EP on an upcoming medical Netflix show. “If you’re looking for parallels between medicine and entertainment, I think there’s an ongoing loss of autonomy that physicians feel and a lot of burnout from that. People move into other fields, and it’s sad to see creative work, which I think really at its deepest level honors individual contributions, being chipped away by corporations.”

Joshua Troke concurs. A former emergency medicine physician and flight surgeon in the U.S. Air Forces Reserves, Troke has been writing on medical shows for the past six years. Part of what made emergency medicine so exhausting was an industry trend that saw medical facilities bought out by private equity groups and expecting physicians to “do more with less.”

In certain ways, the mindset within the film and TV industry is much the same, said Troke.

“Room sizes are shrinking, so you’re working longer hours, but you’re getting paid the same. No, actually you’re getting paid less,” said Troke, who has written and produced on The Resident and Good Sam. There’s so much corporate greed in the streamers that it has reached a breaking point for so many people.”

During the 19 years she has spent on Grey’s Anatomy, former WGAW Board member and Negotiating Committee member Zoanne Clack – another physician turned writer – has long recognized the value of a well-stocked writers room

“We have had to put out 20 – at one point it was 24 – episodes per season, and without a writers room, that would never have been able to happen,” said Clack, executive producer on Grey’s Anatomy and co-showrunner and executive producer on its sister series Station 19. “We have been blessed with a model in which people are able to move up and become showrunners because they have been in the room. So it has definitely benefitted us to not have been in the system that they want to impose on everyone.”

Medical picket organizer and WGAW member Elizabeth Klaviter at Disney.

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.

"Shortly before the strike, I worked in a pre-greenlit Season 2 mini-room. We had five weeks to break the season and write the first two episodes, with only three writers in the room (including the showrunner). With so little time to break and write, the two writers assigned to episodes 1 and 2 had to finish their drafts after the completion of the mini-room."

Read the full story here.