With only six days to go before film and TV writers could launch their second strike in a decade, labor and management still strongly disagree over the impact of the last strike – a troubling sign that could indicate the two sides aren’t seeing eye-to-eye about the WGA’s willingness to strike again this time.
On Monday, after WGA leaders received overwhelming support from their members for strike authorization, the AMPTP said the last strike cost writers “more than $287 million in compensation that was never recovered.” It’s a claim WGA leaders hotly dispute.
WGA West VP David Goodman, an ex officio member of the guild’s negotiating committee, has said that “our greatest recent success is the 2007-08 strike.” It’s an opinion shared by many, if not all, of the guild’s leaders, because that 100-day walkout won jurisdiction over shows made for new media like Netflix and Amazon that are now flourishing in the era of Peak TV.
The AMPTP arrived at that $287 million figure by dividing the total wages of film and TV writers in the year before the last strike began – more than $1 billion – by 365 (the number of days in a year) and multiplying that by 100 (the number of days the strike of 2007-2008 lasted): $1 billion ÷ 365 x 100 = $287 million.
However, that calculation fails to recognize that writers saw a major spike in earnings in the months leading up to the last strike as producers rushed to get scripts finished before the strike deadline. According to the WGA West’s annual reports, writers earned nearly $75 million more in the strike year of 2007 than they did in 2006 – largely because of the speed-up. At more than $986 million, earnings in 2007 were, at that time, the highest ever recorded for WGA West members.
The next year saw a major drop-off in earnings – down $146 million from 2007 to $840 million, the lowest since 2002. But when that $146 million decline is offset by the prior year’s $75 million, the immediate loss to guild members was only $71 million – not $287 million.
After that, earnings hit another record high in 2009, coming in at nearly $956 million. Earnings hit the $1 billion mark in 2010, and have stayed above that ever since.
After the last strike was settled and a new contract was ratified, then-WGA West president Patric Verrone said the new contract “ensures that guild members will be fairly compensated for the content they create for the Internet, and it also covers the reuse on new media platforms of the work they have done in film since 1971 and in TV since 1977. That’s a huge body of work that will continue to generate revenue for our members for many years to come as it is distributed electronically.”
Indeed, writers’ residuals from the reuse of traditional films and television shows exhibited on new media platforms now account for more than $39 million a year, and it’s been going up every year: by more than 1000% for films since 2010 and by nearly 900% for TV shows. Add to that the tens of millions writers make each year from shows made for new media, and it’s clear the immediate losses sustained in the last strike have been more than offset by the gains since.
The two sides continue negotiating today on a new film/TV contract. The current agreement expires May 1 at midnight PT.