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Hollywood writers vote to authorize strike

Nearly 80% of movie and TV writers voted, and nearly 98% of them voted to authorize a strike.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Movie and television writers took a massive step toward a shutdown Monday when members of the their union, the Writers Guild of America West, voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike when their contract expires on May 1.

Nearly 98% of those cast a vote voted to approve the move. While the vote doesn't automatically trigger a strike, it is one of the last steps before a shutdown.

“These results set a new record for both participation and the percentage of support in a strike authorization vote,” the union said in a written statement. “Our membership has spoken. You have expressed your collective strength, solidarity and the demand for meaningful change in overwhelming numbers. Armed with this demonstration of unity and resolve, we will continue to work at the negotiating table to achieve a fair contract for all writers.”

The result of the vote was no great surprise, though perhaps its margin was, as was the turnout — 78.79% of WGA members voted, the highest level of participation in recent memory.

Before the vote, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the trade association that represents the movie and TV studios, released a statement seeking to downplay the referendum.

"A strike authorization vote has always been part of the WGA’s plan, announced before the parties even exchanged proposals," the alliance said. "Its inevitable ratification should come as no surprise to anyone. Our goal is, and continues to be, to reach a fair and reasonable agreement."

Studios have reportedly been stockpiling screenplays for weeks and preparing a slate of reality television programs, which don't need writers. A strike wouldn't shut down production immediately, but a prolonged strike would likely cause one of the biggest and most important industries in Los Angeles to slowly grind to a halt.

An eleventh-hour deal remains possible. In 2017, deal was reached just after midnight on May 2, hours after the writers' contract expired. That year, 96.3% of WGA members voted to approve a strike.

The last time the writers went on strike was 2007. The shutdown lasted for 100 days.

The two sides — screenwriters and studios — are divided on a myriad of issues. Writers want higher minimum pay, but also new regulations governing the use of artificial intelligence in writing, as well as greater flexibility in television contracts. Currently, writers are often forced into exclusivity arrangements in which they cannot write for other shows between seasons. But in the era of streaming, TV seasons have gotten shorter, making those exclusivity deals more onerous.

The WGA also wants a rule mandating a minimum staffing requirement in writer's rooms for TV shows, and a more generous residual formula for streaming services.

Screenwriters are just one of many unions in Los Angeles agitating for higher pay. This month, the two biggest container ports in the country, in Los Angeles and Long Beach, shut down after longshore workers walked off the job. Weeks earlier, public schools shuttered for three days when service workers went on strike. And the schools could face another shutdown if negotiations between the district and teachers don't progress.

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Categories / Employment, Entertainment

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