Saturday, May 19, 2018

Tenth Anniversary, The Writers Guild Strike

The Hollywood Reporter does a look-back at the WGA strike of '07-'08. So you know, the central issue was entertainment unions and guilds gaining jurisdiction over internet-delivered content:

BARRY MEYER, THEN CHAIRMAN OF WARNER BROS. These new-media models were beginning to emerge. We said, "Let's see what develops in three years. If there's something really there, we'll address it then." It sounded perfectly logical to us, but there was a credibility issue that we had with the guilds because we'd made that same speech related to home video, and they had to fight for years to achieve their goals. ...

Mr. Meyer is being a smidge disingenuous here. The "same speech" he refers to is this: the studios and the conglomerates who owned them were beginning to rake in lots of cash from the sale of these things called video-casettes, and the song-and-dance they gave the unions was, "Welll... we don't know how this 'movies on tape' thing will shake out, so we'll give you a cut of 20% of revenue. Once we know where this market is going, we'll come back and re-negotiate a bigger piece of the pie."

You'll be shocked to learn that there was no re-negotiation. Ever after, the studios said, "Hey, you made your [shitty] deal, now live with it." So it's understandable why the Writers Guild of America (and every other labor organization) was unwilling to boogie to that particular tune a second time.

The IATSE was not happy about the lengthy WGA strike. Almost every live-action production in L.A. (and many in New York) shut down, and I.A. membership was impacted big time. Thousands of IA members became unemployed. Animation Guild members who worked on Fox Animation prime-time shows (The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad) and under WGA jurisdiction also found themselves out of work, though artists working on daytime product were unaffected.

TAG, however, had another issue with the WGA. The Writers Guild initial strike guidelines demanded that no WGA members work on product in another union's jurisdiction. This was aimed at writers holding two union cards (WGA and TAG) who worked on animated TV shows and features under an Animation Guild contract, and TAG and the IATSE instantly protested. When legal action was threatened, the WGA revised its overly-restrictive (and illegal?) guidelines.

The strike went on for over three months. Toward the end, the Directors Guild negotiated a new contract deal that included "New Media". Many WGA members thought the DGA had negotiated on their backs, and that the directors' deal hemmed the Writers Guild in. When the strike finally settled after thirteen weeks, the Guild had jurisdiction of product on the internet, but many writing staffs were cut and lots of writers took financial hits. To this day, writers and strike veterans debate whether the time spent marching with picket signs during the winter of '07-'08 delivered a positive or negative result. Former WGA President Patric Verrone believes the outcome was bitter-sweet:

We absolutely didn't get everything we wanted, but getting the jurisdiction in new media completely changed the way writers, actors, directors and the entire industry are employed. If we hadn't done that, Netflix wouldn't be what it is today, which is the company that employs something like a third of our members now.

There's little question that internet jurisdiction has resulted in more employment opportunities for animation artists, writers and technicians. There is also little question that compensation and working conditions in New Media are far from ideal. Animation employees are underpaid and overworked, and until these issues are addressed contractually, work performed on internet properties will go on being double-edged sword.

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