The Writers Guild of America reached a tentative deal in negotiations with Hollywood studios early Tuesday morning, averting a writers strike just hours after their contract had expired.
The main issues at stake during the negotiations between the Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, more simply referred to as "the studios," were writers' demands for higher pay, tied to immense industry profits — $51 billion last year, the Guild said.
But perhaps most importantly, the WGA wanted greater contributions from the AMPTP to the union's health insurance fund, which was in danger of being insolvent. According to an email sent Tuesday morning to WGA members, the new contract includes contribution increases to their health insurance fund "to ensure its solvency for years to come."
The Guild also wanted writers to be paid for their time rather than per episode, and the new contract includes a definition, which has never before existed, of 2.4 weeks of work for each episodic fee. "Any work beyond that span will now require additional payment for hundreds of writer-producers," the email read. Short television seasons have become the norm, rather than the exception, but even with short seasons of 8, 10, or 13 episodes, writers typically work the same, or similar, lengths of time as they would on a full network season of 22 episodes.
Another demand from the WGA was more money for writers' shows appearing on streaming services, because residuals for reruns, which writers have relied on for supplemental income, have faded as a revenue source. According to the email, the new contract includes a roughly $15 million increase in residuals for subscription-based video-on-demand services (meaning Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu's paid subscription tier, etc.), and residuals for comedy-variety writers in pay TV for the first time ever. It also includes a 15% increase in pay TV (HBO, Showtime, etc.) residuals.
Also for the first time ever, the new contract includes job protection for parental leave.
"We were able to achieve a deal that will net this Guild’s members $130 million more, over the life of the contract, than the pattern we were expected to accept," the email noted.
Among other demands, the WGA also wanted pay disparities for script fees to be leveled so that the minimums are the same, regardless of whether a show is on a broadcast network, basic cable, premium cable, or a streaming service. The email did not include specifics about that demand, but details about the new contract will be revealed Thursday, May 4, at the WGA headquarters in Los Angeles.
The writers walkout was supposed to begin Tuesday at 12:01 a.m Pacific Time when the current contract expired, but after that deadline passed, it was clear that the Guild and the studios were closing in on a deal. A statement from the WGA at 1:36 a.m. PT read: "The Writers Guilds of America, West and East and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have concluded negotiations and have reached a tentative agreement on terms for a new three-year collective bargaining agreement."
Negotiations initially began March 13. The WGA's negotiating committee sent a letter to members in March that said "the economic position of writers has declined sharply." The letter noted that the average salary of a TV writer-producer had fallen 23% in the past two years.
The last WGA strike, which began in November 2007 and lasted 100 days, put thousands of people out of work.