Latest On WGA Strike: Warner CEO David Zaslav Booed At Boston University Commencement
It’s Day 22 of the Writers Guild of America strike — Monday marks the fourth week in the work stoppage. And the WGA is finding friends in unexpected places, like at the graduation ceremonies at Boston University.
The school invited alumnus David Zaslav, the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, to receive an honorary degree and speak at its Sunday commencement. Soon after Zaslav started speaking in a ceremony conferring thousands of degrees, many in the audience started yelling “Pay your writers!,” “We don’t want you here!” and “Shut up, Zaslav!” He frequently had to pause during the heckling.
- An airplane pulling a banner with the message “David Zaslav Pay Your Writers” circled over the commencement venue.
- Zaslav’s company is a key member of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the bargaining entity for film and TV studios and streamers in contract talks with the WGA.
- At the same time that screenwriters say their earnings are plummeting, Zaslav has taken home massive compensation: a combined $285.9 million over the past two years, even as his company’s stock price has nosedived.
In a statement released Sunday, the WGA said the students’ reaction sent a “clear message.”
“Zaslav and all of the company chiefs have to negotiate an agreement that addresses the very real challenges WGA members face, that make it possible for writers — and aspiring writers — to build and sustain careers creating the content that the companies rely on for revenue and profit,” the WGA also said.
In his own statement, Zaslav said, “I am immensely supportive of writers and hope the strike is resolved soon and in a way that they feel recognizes their value.”
Background: What AMPTP has said
Hollywood producers released a statement on May 4 that addressed specific points of the WGA's concerns. Among the issues addressed by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers were:
- "Gig economy" for writers: It says screenwriting has almost nothing in common with standard “gigs" jobs. Writers often have a guarantee of specific weeks or episodes, and writing jobs come with benefits such as employer-paid health care and pension plan contributions.
- Mandatory staffing and duration of employment: The AMPT sees this essentially as a hiring quota that's "incompatible with the creative nature of our industry", and says it's a one-size-fits-all solution to shows that are each unique.
- Overall Numbers: The AMTP disputes the WGA's claim that it's only offering $41 million a year in minimum wage increases. It says it's nearer $97 million per year, which doesn't take into account other wage and residual increases it's offered.
- Wage Increases: It's offering the highest first-year general wage increase in more than 25 years, while also offering to create "an entirely new category of rates that will establish a new and higher floor for mid-level writers’ compensation".
- Streaming Residuals: A 46% increase in residuals took effect in 2020, and many writers have yet to see these in their paychecks. For a one-hour episode of a Netflix or Amazon Prime series, a writer receives $72,000 in residuals over three years, growing to $114,000 over seven years.
- Artificial Intelligence: "AI raises hard, important creative and legal questions for everyone. For example, writers want to be able to use this technology as part of their creative process, without changing how credits are determined, which is complicated given AI material can't be copyrighted. So it's something that requires a lot more discussion, which we've committed to doing."
Background: What the WGA has said
In a statement released the night before the strike, the WGA said:
"Over the course of the negotiation, we explained how the companies' business practices have slashed our compensation and residuals and undermined our working conditions. Our chief negotiator, as well as writers on the committee, made clear to the studios’ labor representatives that we are determined to achieve a new contract with fair pay that reflects the value of our contribution to company success and includes protections to ensure that writing survives as a sustainable profession."
What Else You Should Know
- It is the first WGA strike in 15 years; the last work stoppage began in November 2007 and lasted 100 days.
- As of today, no new talks were scheduled.
Why It Matters
The WGA says that most of its nearly 12,000 members are making less than they once did, and that after factoring for inflation, average WGA pay has actually dropped 14% over the last five years.
The union says about half of WGA members are earning scale — the bare minimum wages stipulated by the contract with the AMPTP. Ten years ago, it was only a third.
Executives at studios and streamers maintain that they are still recovering from pandemic losses and have spent billions of dollars creating and buying content for new streaming platforms, some of which are far from profitable.
For Hollywood executives, the stakes are high: if the AMPTP deal for writers increases pay and residual payments, their profit margins could shrink. Furthermore, other Hollywood unions would likely use any WGA gains as the template for their demands; contracts for the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America both expire in the coming weeks.
How We're Reporting On This
John Horn, who covers arts and entertainment, has been following negotiations closely. Josie Huang talked to picketers and local businesses affected by the strike. In addition, our AirTalk team has featured the strike in on-air discussions on LAist 89.3 and LAist coverage.
Our podcasts HTLA and Retake have also talked to writers and others affected by the strike.
This is a developing story. We fact check everything and rely only on information from credible sources (think fire, police, government officials and reporters on the ground). Sometimes, however, we make mistakes and/or initial reports turn out to be wrong. In all cases, we strive to bring you the most accurate information in real time and will update this story as new information becomes available.
What Questions We're Asking
- What are the main sticking points in the negotiations?
- How do the contracts of other Hollywood unions — some of which have no-strike clauses — affect this strike?
- What's next for your favorite shows.
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