CBS Settles Labor Dispute With Writers Guild for 3 Million Dollars

CBS Settles Labor Dispute With Writers Guild for 3 Million Dollars

From May 2 to September 27, 2023, the Writers Guild of America (WGA), representing 11,500 screenwriters, went on strike over a labor dispute with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). This strike, lasting 148 days, tied with the 1960 strike as the second-longest labor stoppage in WGA history, only surpassed by the 1988 strike, which lasted 153 days. Alongside the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike, which continued until November, it marked one of the most significant interruptions to the American film and television industries since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The strike’s impact was profound, leading to the closure or downsizing of some studios and jeopardizing long-term contracts created during the media streaming boom. Big studios could terminate production deals with writers through force majeure clauses after 90 days, saving millions of dollars. The strike also affected various other areas within the global entertainment ecosystem, including the VFX industry and prop-making studios. Following a tentative agreement, union leadership voted to end the strike on September 27, 2023. On October 9, the WGA membership officially ratified the contract, with 99% of members voting in favor. The combined impact of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes resulted in the loss of 45,000 jobs and an estimated $6.5 billion loss to the Southern California economy.

One of the main issues in the labor dispute was residuals from streaming media. The WGA claimed that AMPTP’s share of such residuals had significantly reduced writers’ average incomes compared to a decade ago. Writers also wanted artificial intelligence, such as ChatGPT, to be used only as a tool to assist with research or facilitate script ideas, not as a replacement for them. The COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath saw major reductions in the workforce and cancellations of multiple film and television productions to save money on basic residuals and music licensing costs, though Apple and Amazon remained outliers. The fall of “Peak TV” created worsening conditions for writers and actors.

On May 2, 2020, the latest Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA) became the collective bargaining agreement covering most WGA writers’ work. The MBA established a minimum wage for television and film writers but only applied to those writing for broadcast television shows, not streaming television. This discrepancy was evident when comparing late-night talk shows produced for broadcast television, such as The Late Show with Stephen Colbert by CBS, versus The Problem with Jon Stewart, produced for streaming by Apple TV+. Writers for The Problem were not covered by the MBA and had to negotiate individually with the streaming company for their pay, resulting in lower compensation than writers for The Late Show, despite doing the same amount of work. This pattern held true for other shows in the two categories. The MBA expired on May 1, 2023.

The WGA estimated that its proposals would yield writers about $429 million a year, whereas the AMPTP’s offer would yield $86 million. One disputed issue was the Guild’s desire for “mandatory staffing” and “duration of employment” terms to be added to their contract, requiring all shows to be staffed with a minimum number of writers for a minimum amount of time, “whether needed or not,” according to the AMPTP. Another important proposal from the WGA was to ensure each member of a writing team received their own pension and health care funds. The AMPTP rejected this proposal and did not offer a counterproposal. However, there was a tentative agreement to shift 0.5% of negotiated minimums for all WGA minimums into pensions and health funds.

On April 18, 2023, 97.85% of WGA members voted to go on strike if they failed to reach a satisfactory agreement with the AMPTP by May 1. The AMPTP engaged in lengthy negotiations with the WGA on behalf of major film and television studios but failed to reach a deal before the deadline. As a result, the WGA leadership unanimously approved a strike on May 2, the first since the 2007–2008 strike.

During the strike, the WGA set rules for writers, stating they could not do any writing, revising, pitching, or discussing future projects with AMPTP member companies. Fiction podcasts produced by companies against which the Guild and its members were striking had to stop production. The Guild also advised writers of animated series not covered by the WGA but by the Animation Guild to seek advice on whether their work was counter to the strike’s activities and, if so, to cease such work. The WGA promised to bar non-Guild writers who wrote for companies against which the union was striking from future Guild membership.

The WGA instructed members to begin picketing on May 2, 2023, at 1:00 p.m. PDT. Picketing locations included AMC Networks, Amazon/Culver Studios, MGM, CBS Radford, CBS Television City, Disney, 20th Century Studios, Lionsgate, Starz, Netflix, Paramount, MTV, Sony, Universal, Warner Bros., 30 Rock/NBCUniversal, Broadway Stages, HBO, Silvercup Studios, Steiner Studios, Warner Bros. Discovery, and Warner Bros. Discovery Upfront. Writers facing financial hardship due to the strike were encouraged to apply to the Entertainment Community Fund, which helps people in the entertainment industry with financial trouble find affordable housing and maintain health care and senior care coverage. By May 10, 2023, writers had pledged $1.7 million to the Entertainment Community Fund, with prominent donors including showrunners and producers J. J. Abrams, Greg Berlanti, Adam McKay, Ryan Murphy, Shonda Rhimes, Michael Schur, and John Wells.

On June 7 and 8, 2023, picketing in the Northeast, particularly in New York, was paused due to poor air quality from the 2023 Canadian wildfires. Strike activity resumed on June 9 when air quality improved. On June 9, Lionsgate suspended BMF line producer Ian Woolf following an altercation with striking writers picketing outside BMF’s production headquarters. Woolf allegedly attempted to intimidate picketers by accelerating his car towards them and stopping just short of hitting them. Lionsgate released a statement saying they took acts of intimidation and threats of violence seriously and were investigating the incident.

On July 12, 2023, Deadline Hollywood reported that the AMPTP and major Hollywood studios did not plan to return to negotiations with the WGA until late October 2023 at the earliest. Studio executives believed that by October, many writers would be financially strained to the point where they would lose their housing, allowing the studios to dictate the terms of any new deal. Representatives for the AMPTP distanced themselves from these anonymous sources, claiming they remained committed to signing a deal as soon as possible.

On August 1, 2023, the WGA announced it would meet with the AMPTP on the following Friday to discuss negotiations regarding the strike. Both parties met on August 4, 2023, but no agreement was reached. On August 10, 2023, the AMPTP and the WGA agreed to resume contract negotiations, with the first meeting set for August 11. After that meeting, the WGA sent a note to its members saying the AMPTP had indicated a willingness to make concessions in some areas, including safeguarding writers from artificial intelligence technology. However, the AMPTP was not willing to engage on other WGA proposals, including success-based residual payments from streaming services. The WGA leaders would not return to negotiations until studios were willing to engage on all proposals.

On August 21, 2023, picketing was canceled in Los Angeles due to Hurricane Hilary. The union remained relatively silent beyond the message of August 18, 2023, which indicated positive momentum. On August 22, 2023, the AMPTP presented a proposal suggesting rules for AI content, but talks between the studios and the writers remained at a stalemate until late September. On August 30, California State Treasurer Fiona Ma sent letters to major studios, urging them to return to negotiations and settle the strikes, citing the impact on Hollywood and the broader state economy.

On September 6, Warner Bros. suspended deals with prominent creators like Mindy Kaling, J. J. Abrams, Greg Berlanti, and Bill Lawrence, announcing that the strikes would impact its 2023 earnings by $500 million. On September 8, the WGA claimed that some member companies were willing to negotiate independently, but the AMPTP refuted this, stating that all member companies were aligned in negotiations.

On September 11, The Drew Barrymore Show resumed episodes without writers and was picketed by guild members. Barrymore later announced the show would remain on hiatus while the strike was ongoing. On September 13, Bill Maher announced the resumption of his show Real Time with Bill Maher but later reversed his decision, hoping for a resolution to the strike.

On September 14, the AMPTP and WGA agreed to restart negotiations the following week. By September 20, studio CEOs and WGA representatives resumed negotiations, leading to a tentative agreement on September 24. Following a vote, the union leadership announced the strike would officially end on September 27 at 12:01 a.m. PDT.

On October 9, the WGA membership officially ratified the deal, with 99% of members voting in favor of the new contract.

Source: Various News Outlets

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