Writers on the Line

On the Line
Sweetening the Strike Lines
The Great WGA Bake-Off rises at Universal, L.A. County Board Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell stands with writers at Sony, and striking Medieval Times performers fight for writers at NBCU Barham
Wednesday, July 12, 2023

A "Board Day" Visit to the Picket Lines

L.A. County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell at Sony.

En route to her meeting with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell paid a visit to Sony Pictures to show her solidarity with striking WGA writers.

“It was really important for me to be here with you,” she told early morning picketers at Sony. “It’s also important that you know that even when I’m not here, I’ve got your back.”

Culver City, which includes Sony's film and television studios, has been part of Mitchell’s district both when she served in the California State Assembly and State Senate and again now as part of her 2nd Supervisorial District. While a member of the Senate, in addition to her pro-labor voting record, Mitchell showed her support for the film and TV industry through her Senate Bill 951 which extended the state’s film tax credit. Then Governor Jerry Brown signed the five-year extension into law in 2018.

During her visit, Mitchell told the picketers that she has followed the negotiations between the AMPTP and the WGA as well as the upcoming expiration of SAG-AFTRA’s contract with the AMPTP. Although the landscape of filmmaking has changed in the streaming era, Mitchell said that entertainment workers are no less deserving of a fair contract.

“You have a right to have what you do valued,” Mitchell said. “The whole rather antiquated issue around residuals is a bygone era. I can stream and look at stuff 5,000 times, but they need to figure out a way in which you, the writers of the product, are compensated fairly.”

“I know your decision to strike didn’t come easy. I know this isn’t easy for you individually or your families,” she continued, “but I also know that, at some point, you have to draw a line in the sand and say ‘Enough is enough.’ So please know that I stand here with you.”

Joining Mitchell on the lines at Sony were WGAW Secretary-Treasurer Betsy Thomas and WGA Negotiating Committee member and former WGAW President Patric M. Verrone. Mitchell spoke with Barret Helms, vice chair of WGAW's Committee of Black Writers (CBW) who read a portion of the CBW’s mission statement.

“One thing I can tell you that every member of CBW has in common, that I think everybody here does too is that we want to get back to work,” Helms told Mitchell, “but we can’t do that in a system that’s unfair to us. So we will be fighting for as long as it takes."

How Sweet It Is

Great WGA Member Bake-Off winners Ali Rock, Sylvia Batey Alcalá and Nate Gualtieri 

As the organizer of the Great WGA Bake-Off at Universal, WGAW member and devoted foodie Andrea Ciannavei did not have the time to prepare a dish herself.

As happy as she was for the 35 contestants who submitted entries – and for the multitudes who turned up at Universal Tuesday to enjoy them – Ciannavei was also plenty heated over the circumstances that have driven WGA writers to the picket lines.

Open writing assignments and free work, for example.

“It’s the progressive crushing and squeezing of writers to do more free work,” said Ciannavei, a Co-EP and WGAW member for 13 years. “It’s gone beyond just pitches. It’s going into pitch decks and doing our own packaging of our own shows and bringing in show bibles, all for free and all before we even get the job. So it’s been this consistent push to offshore labor from the studios onto the writers and doing it for free.”

“For a long time before I got to a co-EP level, when I was a lower-level writer, I had to have multiple 1099 jobs just to make ends meet,” added Ciannavei, “and on top of it, I had to work free to maybe get a job that ends up vanishing before you ever get there. It cannot be that only rich people who don’t have to worry about money get to be writers. It cannot be.”

If Tuesday’s bake-off was a day to gather together and talk about issues key to the current strike, it was also a day to find the solidarity in sweetness…or maybe the sweetness of solidarity.

Either way, there were plenty of sugary treats. Riffing on the popularity of bake-off type shows, Ciannevei brought her idea for a baking themed picket to her fellow lot coordinators at Universal. She got the green light and began lining up entrants and judges. Multiple members of the WGA Negotiating Committee and Board of Directors stepped up with WGA Chief Negotiator Ellen Stutzman judging the final round. WGAW member and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend co-creator-executive producer-star Rachel Bloom served as MC.

The event was a hit with loads of sugary goodies piled up both at the check-in table and at the judges table at the Citywalk gate, all for attendees to sample.

When the initial 35 entries had been reduced to three finalists, Stutzman lent her palate to make the final choice, first offering some words of encouragement.

“We’re in the third month of the strike. It’s not easy, but you guys are doing amazing, and it shows the companies that there’s no wavering on our side,” Stutzman told the crowd.

In the end, Sylvia Batey Alcalá took first prize for her salted caramel sticky buns. Ali Rock’s Eat the Rich S’mores took second, and Nate Gualtieri’s midnight layer cake placed third.

In a bit of irony, Alcalá credited her good friend Gualtieri for teaching her “most of what I know about baking.” She also knew Rock from a writing class.

“I know both of them from when we were all in the assistant trenches together,” said Alcalá. “The fact that we’re all in the WGA in and of itself feels like a huge victory, and doing things like this are obviously fun, but getting to celebrate just being at this point at all with my friends feels really special.”

Ali Rock's Eat the Rich S'mores. 

The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword

MTPU Strike captain Erin Zapcic at Universal.

Though they are a younger union and work in a different creative aspect of the entertainment industry, the members of Medieval Times Performers United (MPTU) know full well the importance of solidarity.

The 30 MTPU workers have been on strike from the entertainment center in Buena Park since February. With many of their workers having been forced to take other jobs while scab entertainers perform their work, strike lines at Medieval Times may often contain three or four members.

On Tuesday, MTPU brought their T-shirts, signs, and supporters to the Barham Gate at Universal Studios to join in unity with striking WGA writers.

“I’m an actor, and I have been following what’s going on and paying attention to the issue of AI,” said Erin Zapcic, co-strike captain and co-lead for the MTPU bargaining unit. “I just know that now, more than ever, we all need to stand together. We’re happy to be out here today to show our support for our union siblings.”

The striking MTPU workers include the show’s non-combat cast members – queens, knights, squires, and stable hands. The cast members are protesting against working conditions including unlivable wages, sexual harassment, and animal abuse. The workers at the Buena Park castle followed the lead of MPTU workers in New Jersey who voted to form a union in July of 2022.

MTPU workers have joined WGA picket lines in the past, and WGA members have returned the favor. Following Tuesday’s action at Universal, a solidarity picket between the two unions is scheduled for Sunday, July 16, outside the Buena Park castle.

WGAW member and Warner Bros. lot captain Nicole Feste has helped facilitate inter-guild solidarity. Recognizing that striking MTPU workers needed bodies, Feste – who is also a member of the sex workers union, Equity Strippers NoHo – brought members of that Guild to the Medieval Times picket lines.

“We always try to come out and support fellow unions,” said Feste. “MTPU are fellow performers like we are, and I used to work at Pirates Dinner Adventure across the street from them, so it felt like a personal cause for me to come out and support them as much as I can.”

Feste and MTPU reps say the Medieval Times picket line have a very different character to what writers experience at the studios. Picketing workers try to give information to the theme park patrons about workplace abuse and encourage them to cash in their tickets and get refunds. Too often they are met with apathy.

“We’re struggling,” admitted Jake Bowman, a co-strike captain and co-lead for the MTPU bargaining unit with Zapcic. “Here at the studios, it’s a visual form of picketing to let people know that the strike is still happening.”

“It’s different with us,” he continued. “The scabs are able to continue the shows, and guests walk past us every day. So when you tell somebody, ‘Hey there’s animal abuse happening. There’s rampant sexual harassment. This is a really bad place,’ they just sort of shrug their shoulders and go in anyway. Morally and emotionally, that’s very draining.”

The solidarity picket will be from noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday, July 16 at 7662 Beach Blvd., Buena Park. More info.

MTPU workers join striking WGA writers at the Universal picket line.

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.

"A few years ago, we delivered a draft to a studio exec in early January, giving us a three-month cushion before the March 31st deadline to meet the annual health coverage threshold. We felt good. But by late February, we still had not received payment. So, we checked in with our reps."

Read the full story here.