The Writer’s Guild of America on Strike

By Roger Paradiso

THOUSANDS OF MEMBERS OF THE WGA AND SAG, TEAMSTERS AND OTHER UNIONS lined the streets during pickets outside of 30 Rockefeller Plaza to put pressure on studios for better contracts that include higher wages and assurances about burgeoning technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI). Photo by Bob Cooley.

The WGA went on strike on May 2. The Director’s Guild of America is still at the negotiating table. The Screen Actors Guild- AFTRA will be negotiating on June 7. This is an important time for the creative community. Those in the Village and the lower West Side need to know the issues whether you are a member of a guild or not. The Village has always been home to writers whether they are famous or not. We can wonder if Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Eugene O’Neill, James Baldwin, Norman Mailer and Lorraine Hansberry are all turning in their graves.

What will this do to writers working in the Village right now? Here are, in my opinion, some of the issues that are at stake in these negotiations. They affect all of us.


Speaking for myself, and not my Director’s Guild, I would say streaming is the number one issue. There are more shows streaming now than ever before. The big streaming companies seem to be doing well. There will be negotiations with every guild and a fair resolution will be sought to maintain a healthy relationship between labor and employers.

“I mean, can someone explain to me how you can get a billion streams and not get a million dollars?” Snoop Dogg asked at the Milken Institute Global Conference. The rapper and actor told the audience that box-office sales were a clearer metric for payment as opposed to ambiguous streaming standards. “It’s not working for the artist right now and I just want to speak to that. That’s fucked up,” he said. “The writers are striking because with streaming, they can’t get paid.”

Streaming would probably be the common denominator for all three Guilds. This is what happens when new technology enters the workplace. It happened with residuals for TV shows and movies in the 1960s. And it happened for every new delivery system in the intervening years. Cable, home video, DVDs and the internet have been successfully negotiated in the past. I would say reaching a fair deal on streaming is the goal of all three guilds. However, at this point, the Writers Guild is the only one to strike and take a position on streaming.

“As the 2023 writers’ strike goes into its fourth week, lines are being drawn in the sand. On one side, we have writers, many SAG members (with the potential for many more), the Girl Scouts, Drew Carey, and Scabby the inflatable strike rat. On the other, there’s the AMPTP, the people who organized Boston University’s graduation ceremony, and whoever made that AI Tesla commercial. David Zaslav (CEO Warner Brothers) got booed in Boston this weekend during his speech at BU’s graduation ceremony. Chants of “pay your writers” could be heard, and Scabby commuted in from New York.”
—Bethy Squires in Vulture

The news that the Writers Guild is currently on strike might be confusing to the casual TV watcher. After all, there’s more TV than ever, thanks to the explosion of streaming platforms. (The supposed “limit” of peak TV is a staggering 599 scripted series  in 2022.) And besides, the people who get to write  Succession or Yellowjackets  have exciting, creative jobs, right? What could they possibly have to complain about? … The last time the WGA went on strike was in 2007, when streaming was a nascent technology. It was a major point of contention in negotiations because every time distribution technology changes, writers have had to strike to make sure they’re fairly compensated. The very first WGA strike in 1960 resulted in writers getting a share of profits when a movie was aired on TV, while a 1973 strike focused, in part, on the emerging cable market. The 1980s saw fights over home video … Board member Adam Conover put it in stark terms on CNN: ‘The thousands of writers on strike are asking for roughly the same amount that Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav took home last year alone.’ ”
—Eric Thurm in GQ

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

ACTOR, ACTIVIST AND VILLAGE RESIDENT CYNTHIA NIXON was one of many speakers who took to the podium in solidarity with the WGA members striking outside of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Photo by Bob Cooley.

I would say the next big issue is Artificial Intelligence (AI). It has been introduced into our lives and it will prove to be involved dramatically in the negotiations between the guilds. In fact, it might threaten the Writers Guild more than any other guild right now. They seem to be on the front lines of this battle.

“A powerful new crop of AI tools, trained on vast troves of data online, can now generate essays, song lyrics and other written work in response to user prompts. While there are clearly limits for how well AI tools can produce compelling creative stories, these tools are only getting more advanced, putting writers on guard. Screenwriters are concerned about our scripts being the feeder material that is going into these systems to generate other scripts, treatments and write story ideas,” August, a WGA committee member, told CNN.

“I think we’re getting to the point where it’s going to be that the only people who can afford to try to start a career in television or movies are going to be people who are independently wealthy already, which I don’t think is good for television or movies.”
­—Bob Waksberg, NBC News

This is serious news. For writers in the Village and Lower West Side, take this seriously whether you are a WGA member or not. You should support the WGA if it doesn’t interfere with your current unions and guilds. That means only WGA members are authorized to not cross the picket lines. Please check in with your union or guild for further information.

Both the DGA and SAG-AFTRA have supported the WGA on their strike. Both those guilds are in negotiations or ready to start negotiations. Stay tuned for further news on this historic period in our lives.


AI—Is the Threat Real??

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can spin out a fake version of a novel, essay, poem or screenplay. And with no human author. Will bookstores want to carry AI books in the Village? There could be major developments which we will report in the next issue.

The United States Congress has been having hearings on AI. Countries around the world are exploring the impact of AI.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says Congress “must move quickly” to regulate artificial intelligence and has convened a bipartisan group of senators to work on legislation.

Schumer says the group met recently and that his staff has already met with close to 100 CEOs, scientists and academics who deal with the technology. “We can’t move so fast that we do flawed legislation but there’s no time for waste or delay or sitting back,” Schumer said in opening remarks on the Senate floor. “We’ve got to move fast.”

The unusual legislative push from the Senate majority leader comes as potentially groundbreaking products like AI chatbot ChatGPT have entered the marketplace and can in many ways mimic human behavior. Those tools have generated broader concerns that they will mislead people, spread falsehoods, violate copyright protections and upend some jobs.”
—Mary Clare Jalonick, Associated Press

“This is an iconic, meaningful American industry,” continued Biden. “And we need the writers and all the workers, and everyone involved to tell the stories of our nation and the stories of all of us.”
—As reported in People Magazine Alexis Jones

The Village View will be monitoring this historic confrontation with the tech world and their AI’s influence on our lives.