Writers on the Line

On the Line
Taking Our Fight Statewide
The WGA garners support from the state’s largest pension funds, Starbucks Workers United rallies with strikers at Netflix, and the Great Food program gathers groceries for those in need
Monday, July 31, 2023
WGAW Negotiating Committee member Yahlin Chang, State Controller Malia Cohen, Frank Ruffino and WGAW member Mike Royce at CalSTRS meeting.

The longer the studios refuse to give WGA members a fair deal, the greater the damage not only to the local economy, but also to the health of the state retirement systems who invest in the studios of the AMPTP.

Such was the message of WGAW members who testified before the boards of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) at their monthly meetings in Monterey and La Jolla respectively. Given the risks at stake, WGAW members Brigitte Muñoz-Liebowitz, Gabe Garza, Yahlin Chang and Mike Royce, each asked the agencies to urge the studios to come back to the bargaining table and work out a fair deal.

The meeting testimony comes on the heels of a letter sent by WGAW Chief Negotiator Ellen Stutzman to the CalPERS  and CalSTRS boards urging them "to communicate with Disney, Comcast NBCUniversal and Paramount and request they end the disruptive strike by offering writers a deal that sustains the profession of writing and the long-term financial health of these companies.”

At both meetings, the WGA speakers encountered support from agency and state officials, who said they stand with the striking WGA writers and SAG-AFTRA actors, and for workers at large.

At the CalPERS meeting July 17, Muñoz-Liebowitz noted that while WGA writers are not fund beneficiaries, we do “have a deeply shared common interest” with CalPERS members.

The interest is financial. While the writers are on strike, they will produce no new content, meaning no new scripted shows will air during broadcast season, which will cause damage to the studios, potentially weakening CalPERS investments.

“Hollywood is dying to get back to work, but we need a fair deal to do it, a deal that provides a living wage, an end to the abusive practice of free work, and protection against the existential threat of AI,”  Muñoz-Liebowitz told the board, “all of which have long-reaching implications for the health of the media industry as a whole.”

“We are asking them to invest in their workforce because billions are at risk and it would only cost millions to end this,” Garza told the CalPERS board. “We are asking you to urge them to stop holding the California economy, hundreds of workers and your investments hostage.” The studio’s resistance, Garza said, is a clear example of the AMPTP being “penny wise and pound foolish.”

Chang, a member of the WGA Negotiating Committee, had a similar message for the CalSTRS board members on July 26 in La Jolla. The co-showrunner of The Handmaid’s Tale noted that that series – like many others – has been shut down and is at a complete standstill.

“This strike empties the content pipelines of all these companies,” said Chang, “The longer this goes on, the worse the financial impact will be, but the studios still refuse to come back to the table and talk to us.”

In his testimony, Royce noted that the business model that studios and its employees have used successfully for over 100 years is now being destroyed, making writing "unsustainable gig work." 

"We love what we do, but we have families and mortgages," said Royce, "and we had to say, 'Enough is enough.'" 

In testimony delivered through her proxy, Frank Ruffino, at both meetings, State Treasurer Fiona Ma declared her support for writers as well as her concern for the financial risks that the continuing strike present.

Ruffino also noted that Ma – who is a trustee on both the CalPERS and CalSTRS boards –is herself a member of SAG-AFTRA.

“The Treasurer understands how crucial the entertainment unions have been to insuring economic security for the industry’s workers which has allowed an industry that is crucial to California’s economy to thrive,” said Ruffino.  “These companies would not exist without the labor and the talents of writers [and actors] who make up the WGA and SAG-AFTRA. These workers deserve what they’re asking for.”

State Controller Malia Cohen gave a similar message of support. Having seen the boost to the local economy that a film shoot brought to the community of Hayward, Cohen said she learned a lot about the workings of the entertainment industry.

“I have historically always stood with workers, and so this is a really unique moment in time,” said Cohen. “I just want to affirm my support for the writers who are on strike. I was absolutely delighted to see the actors join them.”

Muñoz-Liebowitz and Garza’s comments can be seen in CalPERS’s video, at the 3:34:22 mark.

WGAW members Gabe Garza and Brigitte Muñoz-Liebowitz at the monthly meeting of CalPERS.

Venti Solidarity

WGAW member and featured speaker Joshua Allen Griffith at Netflix rally. Photo by J.W. Hendricks.

On their visit to the Netflix picket lines Friday, Starbucks baristas served up double shots of labor unity.

In a rally along the east side of Netflix headquarters on Van Ness, the members of Starbucks Workers United (SWU), SEIU, WGA and SAG-AFTRA spoke to a common theme among their respective struggles: corporate greed.

“We’re one union, and when we stick together, nothing can defeat us,” Yvonne Wheeler, president of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, told the crowd. “We are regular, everyday people who live normal lives, but when we’re provoked, we stand together and we punch back.”

SWU is punching back in a big way with its nationwide effort to unionize more than 8,000 workers at over 320 stores across the U.S. Through its Union is Calling bus tour – which came to Netflix for the joint picket  and rally – SWU is connecting with Starbucks employees and other labor-friendly organizations across the nation. In the face of aggressive union-busting by the corporation, SWU is seeking improved wages, consistent scheduling and guaranteed hours for Starbucks employees.

“Over the past couple of years, we have had severe hour cuts. I’ve seen baristas go into homelessness, and a ton of us have had to go on food stamps because they can’t afford to live based on the hours we’re given,” said Jaylee Moore, a barista at a Starbucks in Santa Maria whose 34 workers voted to unionize. “We’re getting the word out about Starbucks’ union busing, and supporting striking stores.”

Friday’s program included remarks by SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, SEIU California State President David Huerta and actor-activist Jane Fonda. Both WGAW featured speaker Joshua Allen Griffith and Netflix lot captain Nikki Goldwaser who MC's the program are former Starbucks baristas.

"The past 88 days of picketing have been a little tiring to say the least, but it turns out that my time lugging gallons of milk upstairs and standing on my feet all day have prepared me pretty well for the challenges of fighting alongside my union," said Goldwaser. "I am so proud to be a part of a union, as all workers deserve to be."

During his remarks, Griffith emphasized the inter-union solidarity, telling the crowd about his “hardcore union” roots. Griffith is the son of a Teamster father and mother who was a member of ILWU Local 13 out of San Pedro.

“We all work very different jobs, but we fight the same fight,” Griffith said. “For a safe workplace, for an equitable workplace and, most of all, for the right to organize.”

Fonda, a two-time Oscar winner who was previously a speaker at the Striking 9 to 5 picket at Netflix, lauded the SWU campaign being driven largely by younger workers from disenfranchised communities. The Union is Calling effort epitomizes "a new wave of modern organizing." 

“Like our SAG-AFTRA and WGA members, these workers aren’t asking for all that much,” Fonda told the crowd. “They’re simply calling for a safe, secure and respectful workplace, with a living wage.”

As for the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, Fonda urged the AMPTP (which she condemned for being “M.I.A.”) to get back to the negotiating table.

“These studio executives know that the very success of this industry is derived from the creative genius of the workers within it,” she said. “Their millions in salaries aren’t the result of C-suite ingenuity. The profits exist because the low-paid workers create brilliant content.”

SWU baristas at the multi-union rally at Netflix. Photo by J.W. Hendricks.

See Photos from the Week of July 24-28

Cooling Down and Lending a Hand

Great Food program volunteer Ellory Smith and WGAW member Alicia Carroll at the Summer Cool Down donation drive at Netflix.

As they gathered their signs to picket Friday at Netflix, several striking WGA writers and SAG-AFTRA actors also dropped off necessary supplies to help people in need at the kickoff of the Summer Cool Down campaign.

Organized by WGAW member Alicia Carroll with animation writer Ellory Smith, goods collected at the food and supply drive benefit the Great Food program run by St. James’-in-The-City Episcopal Church which is less than three miles from Netflix in Koreatown.

Smith runs the church’s Tuesday soup kitchen and Thursday grocery distribution, a couple of the Great Food services that workers who are having difficulty making ends meet can conveniently access.

“We have been really grateful at the WGA to receive lots of support from the community, but I wanted to make sure we were keeping that support circular, and giving back to the community as well,” said Carroll. “Not only this organization, but there are a lot of others in the city that are also available as resources to Guild members who are in financial straits right now.”

“If people are strapped for groceries or having a hard time making ends meet, there are lots of opportunities where they can get a bag of groceries, no questions asked, no need to prove income or residency, just go and collect your food,” added Smith. “That’s something I’ve relied on to make my life easier, and it’s something they can rely on, too.”

In the days leading up to Friday’s donation kickoff at Netflix, Carroll and Smith posted about the drive on Instagram and distributed leaflets on the line. People saw the need and showed their generosity.

“We got so much stuff. It’s great,” said Smith. “We had been out of pads and tampons for the last two to three weeks which is a big need. Now we won’t run out for three months because so many people brought them.”

People can continue to drop off goods in the bins at Netflix. During the hot weather, the church needs items like sunscreen, Chapstick, water and hats, as well as socks, underwear and hygiene supplies like toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant.

“Basically anything that you would need at your house to feel fresh and clean, we need because those are the first things to fall away when you don’t have money,” Smith said. “We’ve all been on our last razor and made it go too long.”

Learn more about Great Food.