TV writers are rallying behind their writers room assistants’ calls for a “living wage” as part of the IATSE’s negotiations for a new film and television contract, which resume July 6.
Under the IA’s contract, the minimum pay for writers’ assistants is only $16 an hour, while script coordinators, who report directly to their showrunners or head writers, are paid as little as $17.64 an hour. Many work for these barely livable wages in the hope of getting a shot at a writing assignment.
Writers have been tweeting their support for their assistants using the hashtags #IASolidarity, #PayUpHollywood and #IALivingWage.
“Writer’s Assistants & Script Coordinators are under-sung and underpaid superstars of every TV production; they deserve to be paid a living wage by every studio, no exceptions,” tweeted Craig Thomas, co-creator/executive producer of How I Met Your Mother and executive producer of the upcoming How I Met Your Father.
“Studios who claim to support diversity & inclusion MUST pay writers room support staff a living wage,” tweeted DC’s Legends of Tomorrow executive producer Keto Shimizu. “The only people who can afford to LIVE off the current rates are those who come from wealth/privilege. The pipeline is broken.”
Mike Royce, One Day at a Time co-showrunner/executive producer, tweeted that “Showrunners without a support staff are called “shitshowrunners” because imagine one freaking second without them. So be sure to let your studio execs know that your indispensable staff getting a wage they can actually live on is important to you. #IALivingWage #IASolidarity.”
“I got to hire my first assistant this year. I asked friends what constitutes a fair wage, and @LizAlps et al told me $25/hour,” tweeted Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, whose writer-producer credits include Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. “My studio pays $20, ‘non-negotiable.’ So I pay the balance. But I shouldn’t have to. Normalize a living wage for TV assistants.”
“I’ve never been a writer’s assistant, but I’ve worked with many,” tweeted Amanda Brooke Perrin, writer and creator of An Awkward Girl Dates. “They have the hardest jobs and longest hours. I’ve seen them get treated poorly time and time again and they still come back the next day. Pay them what they deserve for the love of god.”
“Writers’ rooms are 100% dependent on Writers’ Assistants and Script Coordinators,” tweeted Dailyn Rodriguez, executive producer/co-showrunner of Queen of the South. “Without them, we can’t make TV. We need to pay our assistants a living wage. I stand in solidarity and support #IALivingWage #IASolidarity.”
“A writers room could not function without Writers Assistants and Script Coordinators and it’s about time their pay reflected that,” tweeted Gloria Calderón Kellett, the One Day at a Time co-showrunner/executive producer. “We need to walk the walk and pay our assistants a living wage. I stand in solidarity and support #IALivingWage #IASolidarity.”
“Pay Writers’ Assistants & Script Coordinators a livable wage. In a multi-billion dollar industry it’s nothing short of necessary & essential,” tweeted Shameless and Parenthood writer LaToya Morgan.
IATSE and its 13 Hollywood production locals – including Script Supervisors Local 871, which represents writers’ room assistants and script coordinators – will return to the bargaining table on July 6 after negotiations broke off on June 11. The current contract expires July 31.
Crystal Hopkins, president of Local 871, sent out a statement she made to management’s Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers shortly before the talks broke off: “For the workers we speak for here today, this isn’t about savings, year-end bonuses, or vacations. It’s about this month, and the rent they can’t pay. It’s about the consequences of holding a second job to supplement the paycheck from the 60-hour work week they just finished for you or choosing which bills go unpaid next month. Beyond that even – it is about being paid in a commensurate fashion to our counterparts in the industry and being treated fairly and equitably for the work we do.”
Amy Paulette Hartman, 34, who has worked as a writers’ room assistant on six TV shows shot in Los Angeles, got a chance to address the AMPTP’s negotiators, and to tell them what it’s like to work for “unlivable wages.” Here’s her account, made on Twitter, of her presentation to the companies’ reps:
“In my last job as a writers’ assistant, I made $16.25 an hour, for an average take-home check of $861.09 a week for sixty hours of work. Our weekly writers’ room craft service budget was nearly double that, the lunch budget was nearly triple it.
“My husband, who is also an industry assistant, and I lived with a roommate until a month ago. His moving out isn’t really a good thing – we’re not entirely sure how we’re going to make up his share of the rent. We’ve been unable to build up any savings, as 90% of every paycheck goes to bills. We’re currently putting off having children and starting a family because right now there is no way we could afford kids, a gamble given our age.
“Like many others in the lowest-paid IATSE positions, we’ve been stuck in a cycle of financing our lives on credit cards between jobs, fighting to pay off those credit cards once we find work, only to find ourselves building those balances right back up again once the show ends.
“As shorter rooms and mini-rooms become the norm, we find ourselves with longer and longer stretches of unemployment without no pay increase. Writers’ assistant and script coordinator jobs are hyper-competitive and hard to come by, and without a roster, we have no job security just by virtue of being in a union.
“The employers have used these facts against us to keep our pay down, threatening termination and blackballing should we not accept the unlivable wages offered. I experienced this personally a few years ago.”
Even so, she wrote, “The support and solidarity I’ve found in the (negotiating) committee, throughout our local, and from our IATSE brothers and sisters at large has been remarkably empowering and encouraging, so much so that I volunteered to speak publicly to the AMPTP regarding our #IALivingWage initiative.”