United in Solidarity Here at Netflix
L.A.’s labor community threw another torch into the blaze of the city’s hot union summer as striking hotel workers from UNITE HERE Local 11 joined a Netflix picket line already teeming with WGA writers and SAG-AFTRA actors.
Marching from the W Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard, hundreds of red T-shirt wearing Local 11 members arrived at Netflix accompanied by chants of “On strike, shut it down! L.A. is a union town!” for a Friday rally followed by picketing. The rally was MC’d by Local 11’s Co-President Susan Minato and included remarks by Local 11 members as well as WGAW Board members Eric Haywood and Justin Halpern, SAG-AFTRA’s Ben Keller, and L.A. County Federation of Labor President Yvonne Wheeler.
“We are one labor family and when we stick together, nothing can defeat us,” Wheeler said. “I speak on behalf of 800,000 union members in Los Angeles County who stand in support with UNITE HERE Local 11, with SAG-AFTRA and with the WGA. An injury to one is an injury to all.”
Local 11 is waging a series of strikes against southland hotels. The local, which represents 32,000 workers in hotels restaurants, airports sports arenas, and convention centers, is seeking higher wages and improved working conditions for its hotel workers.
“I have a lot of co-workers who drive from three hours away to work in the hotel because they cannot afford to rent or buy a house in L.A.,” said Claudia Alvarado, a worker at the W Hotel and the mother of a SAG-AFTRA member. “That is not fair, and that needs to be changed.”
The inter-guild unity expressed at Friday’s event is by no means a new phenomenon. As WGAW Board member Justin Halpern noted, UNITE HERE and SAG-AFTRA have been on WGA picket lines since the start of our strike on May 2.
“When we saw that everyone was supporting us, we knew there was no way we were going to lose,” said Halpern, “and I want to say from the Writers Guild that we’re going to be here to support SAG-AFTRA and to support UNITE HERE Local 11. Together we will not lose this.”
During the Guild’s negotiations with the AMPTP, Haywood – a WGA Negotiating Committee as well as a WGAW Board member – said he incorrectly assumed that the studio executives on the other side of the table were mature professional adults who could be appealed to on a professional, emotional, and practical level.
In fact, he learned that they only respect power, which is something that UNITE HERE wields.
“The hospitality industry in Los Angeles is a $34 billion industry. That’s a lot of power,” Haywood said. “The CEOs and the executives do not create that power. The workers create that power.”
SAG-AFTRA’s Ben Keller, a former member of the Teamsters and UNITE HERE Local 11, said that people in the entertainment industry often have to work in hospitality as well in order to earn a living in Los Angeles.
“We have manned your front desks, we have checked and parked your cars. We fold your bedspreads, make your drinks, and deliver your food,” said Keller. “We are hospitality and so much more. We deserve fair wages, better benefits, and better working conditions at every place we work.”
SEIU in the House
Last spring, when LAUSD workers from SEIU Local 99 (Education Workers United) walked off the job for three days in protest against unfair labor practices, teachers from UTLA joined them on the picket lines in solidarity, forcing the cancelation of three school days at the nation’s second largest school district.
“They knew they weren’t going to do our jobs,” Local 99 Executive Board Secretary Agnes Braga said of the teachers. “That’s why this is important. Solidarity and supporting each other is key.”
Local 99 paid that support forward last Friday, joining striking WGA and SAG-AFTRA members on the picket line at Paramount Studios. The program included remarks from LAUSD Board member Kelly Gomez as well as WGAW strike captain Marcelina Chavira and SAG-AFTRA strike captain BJ Lange.
Local 99 members include teachers’ assistants, playground workers, special education assistants, bus drivers, gardeners, cafeteria workers, maintenance workers, early care and education workers and others who work in schools, colleges, family child care centers and administrative offices.
According to Braga, the union’s three-day LAUSD strike in March had a discernible effect on Local 99's membership.
“I think our members realized their power during that strike,” Braga said. “Now they’re more gung-ho in making sure they do whatever action is needed so that everyone’s voice gets heard.”
Braga has monitored how workers in European countries are gaining strength. She has also traveled with a delegation of the L.A. County Federation of Labor to lobby against right-to-work legislation in Missouri.
“I think we need to do more of that,” she said. “Each and every union needs to come together to make sure people realize that L.A. is a union town.”
Amidst Construction Obstruction, Writers Hold the Line at Universal
They tore up the sidewalk and eliminated much welcome shade by giving trees along Barham a controversial trim.
But even as they literally lost the sidewalks under their picketing writers’ feet, Guild lot coordinators at Universal reaffirmed their dedication to improve the situation and eventually strengthen their numbers on the picket lines.
“We’re very determined to maintain this picket line regardless of what’s been thrown at us,” said lot coordinator and WGAW member Erin Conley. “We know we can accommodate more picketers than this, and we’re just hoping that Universal will work with us to protect the entire community.”
Universal has five gates along Lankershim Boulevard. During the first week of the strike, all five gates were accessible on foot via one continuous sidewalk.
However, as the strike entered its second week, a large construction project began gradually taking away portions of the sidewalk. By week six, the east side of Lankershim contained no sidewalk connecting any of the studio gates.
Picketers at Universal have to wave their way through a lane of traffic that is blocked only when construction is active. To reach the largest gate at the entrance to Citywalk, picketers have to walk on the opposite side of the street, up an elevator, and over a pedestrian bridge. Promises of a pedestrian lane of “K-Rail” barriers from River Road to Universal Hollywood Drive have gone undelivered. Since the start of its strike, SAG-AFTRA has not yet established a location at Universal.
In addition to filing a joint legal grievance with SAG-AFTRA against Universal with the National Labor Relations Board last week, WGA has taken its fight to our supporters in the community. Via an online petition, the Guild is asking that NBC Universal set up a pedestrian lane to restore areas for safe picketing. To date, the petition has drawn more than 15,000 signatures.
In a separate controversial action, Universal recently butchered a row of Ficus trees on Barham Boulevard that provided shade to those who picket at Universal’s Gate 8. Since no permits were pulled to prune those trees, L.A. City Controller Kenneth Mejia investigated the action, which has become known on social media as “Treegate.” As a result, the maximum fine of $250 was levied.
In recent days, Universal’s brazen butchering of the street’s shade trees has triggered a widespread outcry on social media from Guild members and the general public, as “Treegate” has generated press coverage from major media outlets. On the construction front, there has been political support for the city to install K-Rails on Universal Studios’ lot streets to improve safety for picketers and pedestrians alike.
“For now, we’re just really trying to show people that it’s still important to keep coming to Universal,” said Conley. “We’ve been really thankful that we have so many picketers who have been very dedicated to continuing to picket this lot with us anyway.”
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.
"When I created a show for one of the smallest basic cable channels, my entire staff enjoyed the protections of a Guild contract: weekly minimums, 13-week guarantees, and a residuals formula that meant we shared in the success of our show."
Read the full story here.