Meredith Stiehm won’t take office as the next president of the WGA West until next month, but she’s already looking ahead to the 2023 film and TV contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Running unopposed in the guild’s upcoming election, she says in her official campaign statement that she’s ready for a “fight” with the major studios over a bigger share of steaming revenue and to achieve a long list of other economic gains for writers.
“I think writers feel in our bones that this will be a crucial negotiation,” she says in her statement (read it in full here). “Once again a new business model – vertically integrated streaming – is revolutionizing writers’ jobs, and being used to squeeze our pay. The downward pressure on income that we are all feeling is not a byproduct of the model, it is the goal.”
Stiehm, who will succeed David A. Goodman as president on Sept. 21, wrote that improving writers’ streaming residuals “is imperative” in the next round of bargaining, and that “mini-rooms that drive writers’ wages to scale are unacceptable. Script parity and screenwriter protections must be secured.”
Stiehm, who was one of the leaders of the WGA’s historic campaign to reshape the talent agency business, wrote: “We secured this victory with everyone watching. We now have tremendous momentum as we approach the [Minimum Basic Agreement] in 2023. The companies should be on notice that we will bring that same strength and resolve to our negotiations with them.”
“I am ready to take on another battle if we have to,” she added. “When the cause is right and true, I do not fear speaking up, standing up, and holding steady, for as long as it takes. I’m a good fighter.”
She notes, however, that “the companies are consolidating their power precisely to resist such changes. We know that to make these gains, it will probably take a fight. We’re up to it. This membership has shown time and time again that it is not afraid to solve problems.”
“But, this is important – if the membership does not want to fight, we won’t,” she writes. “Anything we do together to take on the companies will require the strong, voted support of Guild members. I have learned by being on the Board, and watching the presidents before me, that the job is to serve writers. This is not a position where you primarily assert your personal will. You listen to members, and try to get them the things that are important to them. So, that makes it pretty simple.”
Stiehm, who was a member of the 2017 and 2020 contract negotiating committees and co-chaired the agency negotiating committee, was one of eight named plaintiffs in the WGA’s two-year legal battle with the Big 3 agencies, which ended when the agencies agreed to phase out packaging fees and limit a franchised agency and its owners to owning no more than a 20% stake in a production or distribution entity.
Her running mates, who also are running unopposed, say they’re ready to fight as well.
Michele Mulroney, who will be stepping up to vice president from the secretary-treasurer post she currently holds, says in her campaign statement that “the AMPTP’s two favorite words are rollback and NO. We must not underestimate the tenacity and strategic know-how required just to hold onto what we already have. Including securing our Pension & Health Plans, as necessary. That’s job number one.
“Although we have plenty of specifics to fight for across all work areas, the 2023 headline for me is clear: We must ensure that the economics of streaming work for writers.”
“Let’s remember that content is queen. And it’s not gonna write itself,” Mulroney told the guild’s members. “That’s where our leverage comes in. We have to OWN our power as writers. Now that we are firmly in the age of streaming dominance, we must craft proposals that put $$ in as many writers’ pockets as possible: a more advantageous SVOD residuals formula and script fee parity across all platforms would be a start.
“Whether it’s the myriad issues facing writing teams, establishing rules around rewrites in features, regulating the pitching/pre-work process, establishing minimums for comedy/variety programming on SVOD, or improving opportunities and access for historically underrepresented writers…ultimately, our 2023 Pattern of Demands will come from you.”
Betsy Thomas, who will be the guild’s next secretary-treasurer, said in her statement that the WGA’s 2020 contract talks – which were conducted during the early days of the pandemic shutdown – and the guild’s victory over the major talent agencies, “have given our union a duly earned reputation for being smart, tenacious, and, frankly, kick ass. We are to be taken seriously and feared – and heading into 2023, we need to be.
“I believe our next MBA negotiation will be our most important and difficult negotiation since our strike in 2007. Vertical integration and corporate consolidation have put us – and our sister unions – at a turning point. There are gains that we must secure in two years. We have the strength and the stature, but it’s imperative that we also have a well-conceived strategy and the courage to enact it.”
And all three will bring street-cred to those negotiations.
“I walked the picket line in 2007 with a baby in a Bjorn,” Stiehm writes. “The Guild’s exceptional health plan covered me through two pregnancies and a costly health crisis. I continue to revere this union and all that it gives me.”
Thomas, who co-chaired the 2020 negotiating committee and served on the agency negotiating committee, is also a strike veteran, and she too walked the picket line with a baby in a Bjorn. “In 2007, our entire household went on strike,” she writes. “My husband was a strike captain who took the 6-9 am shift outside Paramount because nobody else would do it, then I relieved him, often with our baby in a Bjorn. We picketed every single day of that strike with a colicky infant and no income. I know how scary and hard a strike is, and I will never take my responsibility in leadership cavalierly.”
Solidarity, Thomas writes, “Is standing behind actions that scare you or that you might disagree with because it is the responsibility that comes with being in a union. Solidarity is our essential power against the consolidated media giants that we face.”
Mulroney, who will be the next vice president, was co-chair of the 2020 contract negotiating committee and was also a member of the agency negotiating committee. She says she wants to apply that experience “to help deliver a successful 2023 MBA campaign.”
As co-chair of last year’s negotiating committee, she writes, “I had a front row seat at the negotiations and observed firsthand the kinds of tactics employed by the AMPTP. As a result, I feel well equipped to help strategize and identify priorities for our 2023 campaign. We know what we’re up against: mega-mergers, the convergence of theatrical and SVOD, dwindling back-ends, shorter seasons, the rise of the TV mini-room, an assault on TV producing fees, and the never-ending epidemic of free work.”
All three are also committed to diversity, inclusion and equity.
“I have been the only woman in the writer’s room over and over again,” Stiehm writes. “I’ve seen diverse writers quietly marginalized, and I’ve seen them overtly insulted. I’ve seen precious few disabled writers at work. I’ve seen harassment and bullying with exhausting regularity. And these experiences are completely borne out by the WGA’s systematically collected data. Inclusion and Equity is core to the mission of the Guild; we are obligated to take on these issues. It is not too much to expect that every writer have a fair, safe work environment.
“Show runners have real power to mandate Inclusion & Equity best practices on their shows; the Guild can help guide and support them in that effort. But the studios need to do their work. They can, and must, be pressured to improve their frankly very poor record in hiring diverse screenwriters.”
Mulroney, who has served on the guild’s board since 2017, wrote that the board “is working on a series of DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) initiatives “and I am spearheading the screenwriter portion of this effort. Although I have been heartened over the last four years to see our membership grow more and more diverse – most months, 40-50% of our new members come from historically marginalized groups – we still need to ensure equal access to opportunities for screenwriters. We recently put out an Inclusion & Equity Features Survey, the results of which will inform the Board’s work moving forward.
“Including women, the numbers of diverse writers currently employed in features is at approximately 43%. The survey results highlighted the fact that many diverse writers don’t make it past the pitching stage on projects, so we also hope to offer more peer-to-peer mentoring on subjects like how to take an effective general meeting/pitch meeting. We also plan to do outreach to Producers and Executives to advocate for diverse hiring and help them understand where in the employment pipeline our diverse members are experiencing the most obstacles.”
Thomas writes: “We also must make changes immediately – outside of the MBA – to issues of harassment, inclusion and equity. To the terrible abuses of free work that face screenwriters in both film and TV. To the growing disassociation between television writing and producing. And to many other small, but still significant, issues that we know our members are facing every day.”
The guild will hold a virtual meet-the-candidates night on Sept. 1; voting will begin Sept. 2, and the ballots will be counted on Sept. 21. In addition to the three uncontested officer races, 18 candidates are vying for eight open seats on the guild’s board.
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