Writers on the Line

On the Line
Retaking Radford
Radford’s Radicals declare victory on the first day of picketing at the studio’s main gate and a timely reminder to hydrate sustainably
Tuesday, August 1, 2023
Radford lot captains joined by Guild staff on the first day picketing the Radford gate. Photo by J.W. Hendricks.

Radford radicals rejoice! Colfax has been neutralized, and the main gate has been won!

After months of members picketing in intense heat on the cramped sidewalks alongside dangerous traffic outside Radford Studio Center’s Colfax Avenue gate, the WGA moved its picketing location to the more centrally located and pedestrian-friendlier Radford Avenue main gate Monday. The studio’s management allowed the Guild to switch its picket gate from Colfax to the more centrally-located Radford main entrance following threats of legal action, and social media pressure from Radford lot captains and other WGA members. An article detailing the dangerous picketing conditions at Radford that appeared in The Hollywood Reporter last week also helped turn the tide.

“I’m very proud of everyone’s tenacity,” Radford lot coordinator Andra Whipple told the crowd at Monday morning’s picket, the first at the new location. “I’m proud of how we all worked together to get to this place, and this is just one piece. We’re still on strike, but the tenacity that we put into busting this gate, we will put into this strike.”

“There are people in charge and we’re going to make them see us,” she continued, announcing a special Radford Day celebration Wednesday starting at 9 a.m. “This is a big first step because now they can see us. Now they can’t avoid us. Now they can’t hide from us.”

WGA members have complained about the conditions at Colfax since the start of the strike. Under labor law, the owners of Radford Studio Center were able to relegate picketing to Colfax by declaring the main gates “neutral.” The Radford gate, by contrast, has wider sidewalks and shady trees, and is also much closer to the hub of the center’s activity.

“[The Radford Avenue gate] is the main gate of Radford. In 2007, this is where our picket and our table was,” said Patti Carr, a captain during the current strike and during the 07-08 strike. “It’s very hard to justify why you would not be allowed to picket at the main location of where the struck companies are, but they did it for a number of months.”

“Especially knowing the office above us [outside the Radford gate] is where the executives work,” added Whipple. “Picketing at the Colfax gate is like picketing Disneyland on the 5 Freeway.”

Since the start of the strike, nearly 75 people have spent time monitoring activity at the main entrance while it was still a neutral gate. The volunteers logged multiple potential violations of the neutral gate as well as examples of dangerous driving on Colfax, all of which they forwarded to the Guild’s legal department. Whipple also recorded ground temperatures that determined that walking surfaces at Colfax were between 116 and 135 degrees.

Last week, after Whipple published a lengthy Twitter thread laying out the situation, The Hollywood Reporter came out and subsequently published a story. In addition, WGAW attorney Jeremy Bennie sent a letter detailing the dangerous conditions to Radford demanding the neutral gate policy be changed. Shortly after the article was published, Bennie spoke with Radford Labor Relations executive Louis Zogaib and was informed that the Radford gate had been approved as a picket gate effective Monday.

“Our members never gave up,” Bennie said. “So we didn’t either.”

“It’s a small win,” said Radford strike captain Charlie Kelly, “but I think for the people who show up here every day, it doesn’t feel like such a small win to be out of the sun and to be telling these companies that you can’t abuse a labor law loophole to make people uncomfortable or unsafe. I think being able to have that small victory in the middle of a strike feels pretty good.”

Barry Rubinowitz, a WGAW member since 1975, is one of the self-described “Radford Radicals” who picketed at the Radford Gate in 2007-08. Like many of his fellow members, he wondered at the 2023 picket being relegated to Colfax and hoped to be able to return to the Radford Gate.

Back in his familiar stomping grounds Monday with red dust from Colfax still on his shoes, Rubinowitz declared himself content with the outcome.

“It feels like old times,” he said.

Radford lot coordinator Andra Whipple on the bullhorn at the first day of picketing at Radford's main gate. Photo by J.W. Hendricks.

Water Cooler Talk

A water cooler at Sony

Heading to the picket lines? We all know how hot it is, so don’t forget the hydration. In fact, why not fill up one of those handy water reusable bottles – of which we all own at least 20 – rather than grabbing the single-use plastic bottles that have been flooding the recycling bins. Don’t worry, the Guild has taken some eco-friendly steps to make sure that, wherever you’re picketing, you won’t run dry.  

Long before the weather turned, a group of WGA members on both coasts who were interested in issues of sustainability became aware of how many plastic water bottles came back to the recycling bins and started thinking about ways to cut down on the use of all that plastic. Working in conjunction with the Producers Guild of America (which has several green initiatives), WGAW staff, members and leadership went into action to keep everyone cool.

At the beginning of each day, 5-gallon bottles of Arrowhead water are loaded into the vans and delivered to each studio lot. Each lot also has a 10-gallon Igloo dispenser which are filled up with cold water so picketers can refill their reusable bottles. The Guild still provides flats of plastic bottles for picketers who forget their reusable bottles or to serve people who are marching at gates that don’t have easy proximity to the coolers.

The Guild also rented a freezer in which 20-pound bags of ice are stored. Each day, every picket van gets two 20-pound bags which are delivered to the lines to cool the waters in the Igloo dispensers.

“We ended up figuring out what made the most economic sense, and we are definitely decreasing the amount of plastic bottles that we were providing on the picket line every day,” said WGAW Assistant Executive Director Lise Anderson. 

The goal is to get a number of WGA members to make a simple shift in behavior: namely bringing their reusable bottles, said Dorothy Fortenberry, a writer and producer whose credits include The Handmaid’s Tale and The 100.

“During the first month, there was so much going on that, understandably, this was not top of mind,” said Fortenberry who worked with fellow WGAW members Jenny Lynd, Jessica Poter and WGAE member Lydia Pilcher as well as
PGA Executive Director Susan Sprung. “Everybody had just started doing a very difficult thing, but I couldn’t help notice all the bags of plastic trash, and I thought can we figure out a way to make that change?”

Even before the strike, Fortenberry had worked to prioritize sustainability on her sets. The theme of Extrapolations, on which she served as a writer and executive producer, is the effects of climate change. In telling the stories, creator Scott Z. Burns emphasized the need to also set an example, according to Fortenberry.

“It was important for us to try to have as sustainable and eco-friendly a production as we could, given the subject matter,” she said. “If we’re going to make a show about climate change, let’s try to do it as responsibly as we can.”

While still on the series, Fortenberry connected with other WGA members who were interested both in sustainable practices on sets and in telling environmentally-themed stories. When the strike began, the team considered measures to green the picket lines as they would do for a TV or film set.

“As hard as the strike has been, one of the real joys has been connecting with other writers and getting to see people in person after Covid,” Fortenberry said. “People have been wonderfully open and honest about the challenges we face in the industry. This is a chance to have conversations in a more natural and organic way about everything. There are sustainability offices at every network and studio. They can be resources as we produce our shows.”