Members of the Writers Guild of America have overwhelmingly authorized a motion to strike as negotiations surrounding royalties and residual payments from streaming content have reached a stalemate.
In a record-setting vote earlier today, nearly 98 percent of eligible members of the Writers Guild West and East voted to authorize a strike. A total of 9,218 writers participated in the vote, or nearly 79 percent of members eligible to take part. The vote was 9,020 in favor and 198 opposed.
“These results set a new record for both participation and the percentage of support in a strike authorization vote,” the guild shared in an email to members. “Our membership has spoken. You have expressed your collective strength, solidarity, and the demand for meaningful change in overwhelming numbers. Armed with this demonstration of unity and resolve, we will continue to work at the negotiating table to achieve a fair contract for all writers.”
These results do not ensure a work stoppage will happen, but instead, give the union the option to strike if labor leaders decide it becomes necessary throughout the ongoing contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Until the existing contract expires, the vote to strike is largely a sign of unity among members, serving as leverage during the negotiation period.
The WGA and major studios must reach an agreement before their existing contract expires on May 1, or the risk of a strike becomes a very real threat. If the guild does strike, it would mark the first work stoppage in fifteen years. Union leaders have indicated that they’re seeking an increase in royalties and residual payments for streaming content that more closely resembles the figures for network television. The Writers Guild points to the obvious rise of such streaming content and contends that wages have not yet caught up to its hold on the industry.
The Writers Guild is also seeking an increase to compensation, more generally, and wants to see regulations implemented that will ensure a particular number of writers are actively involved with projects and that writers are employed for at least a minimum amount of time.
In 2017, the guild also voted in favor of a strike authorization, but negotiations ultimately led to an eleventh-hour compromise. In 2007, a compromise was not reached in time, leading to a 100-day strike that shut down the industry. The latest vote comes as Disney’s own writers face instability in the midst of company-wide layoffs and C-suite shakeups.
Joe Earley, who was President of Hulu, has been promoted to President of Direct-to-Consumer for Disney Entertainment placing him in charge of all streaming content for the company. The move comes after Bob Iger announced the reorganization of the Walt Disney Company into three core business segments: Disney Entertainment, ESPN, and Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products.
Layoffs will impact about 4,000 existing employees and departments are expected to freeze the search for many unfilled positions, as well. Senior Vice President of Production for Hulu, Mark Levenstein, and Jayne Bieber, senior vice president of Production Management & Operations for Freeform, were among the first executives to be let go in a series of layoffs in March. Former VP of Corporate Communications for The Walt Disney Company, Jeffrey R. Epstein, soon followed. Among the latest executives to be cut in the first round of Disney layoffs is Marvel Entertainment Chairman Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter, who had a lot to say about his firing. Senior Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer Alicia Schwarz has also been let go.