WGA Strike Meetings: LA Crowd Gives Chief Negotiator Ellen Stutzman Loud Standing Ovation; New York Event Told “Entire Labor Movement Is Behind Us” – Update

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Updated with details of LA meeting… On the second day of the Writers Guild of America’s first strike in 15 years, the guild is holding big meetings on both coasts with members to detail how they got here, what’s going on, and what’s next.

Picket lines broke up earlier Wednesday as the WGA East met at The Great Hall at Cooper Union in NYC and the WGA West gathering at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The event at the former was set to kick off at 6 p.m. ET, while the packed meeting at the latter was set for 7 p.m. PT. The Great Hall has a capacity of nearly 1,000, and former Oscars venue the Shrine can hold about 6,000 people.

Although the Great Hall meeting took a bit longer than expected to get started, the crowd clearly was fired up, according to sources at the venue. There was big applause from WGA members as the solidarity from other guilds and unions like IATSE was brought up. “The entire labor movement is behind us,” one WGA leader told the crowd. “The White House is behind us.”

Though the meeting inside the Great Hall took a bit longer to get started than expected, the crowd was clearly fired up, according to sources at the venue. There was big applause from WGA members as the solidarity from other guilds and unions like IATSE was brought up. “The entire labor movement is behind us,” one WGA leader told the crowd. “The White House is behind us.”

Also beginning later than scheduled, due to a huge line up for check-in, the Shrine-hosted event tonight on the West Coast saw remarks of support from DGA Negotiating Committee chair John Avent as well as leaders from IATSE and SAG-AFTRA leaders. Hollywood Teamsters chief Lindsay Dougherty also offered strong backing to the WGA and received a standing ovation from the union crowd, we hear.

Perhaps the loudest and most intense applause of the night so far went to WGA chief negotiator Ellen Stutzman. The audience were up on their feet fast with a standing ovation for Stutzman early on in the evening’s event.

Picketers outside the WGA meeting in Manhattan

Deadline spoke to some of the folks at the Manhattan site before that meeting began.

Shortly after joining the WGA, John Mahone got his first glimpse of the world that he wants all comedic television writers like himself to be able to live and work in: He was on set, with the production he was attached to happening in front of him, as he wrote. 

“It really informs you as a writer to have that kind of on-set experience,” Mahone said on Wednesday evening after marching with other striking WGA writers through Manhattan to a meeting of union members at Cooper Union college. “Because you can see the limitations; you can see how your ideas actually come to life. When you’re writing in a room, on paper, it’s easy to come up with all these ideas, but to see them actually executed and to be on set — that’s an invaluable experience.”

The loss of that experience for other, younger writers is one of the reasons that Mahone, who was written for Our Flag Means Death and Girls5eva, said he joined the picket line this week. He said access to productions “has become a huge hurdle for us.”

“It used to be that you would be paid to cover your episode on set,” he said. “But those days have been over for a few years now.”

Pickets near the WGA meeting site in New York City

Sean Piccoli

Among the people heading into Wednesday’s meeting of union members in Manhattan was Alex Zaragoza, who joined WGA as a writer for the news and culture outlet Vice and carried her membership into a career change writing for television. When the guild voted to strike, “I had just finished working on a show that hasn’t gone to series yet,” Zaragoza said as she handed her picket sign over to a union representative and got ready to join other writers inside the Foundation Building, also known as the Great Hall, at Cooper Union college for a members-only meeting closed to press.

“I had just wrapped, a month prior, another show that I had worked on,” Zaragoza said, “and so I was really just sitting and waiting — literally sitting and waiting to see if I was going to be able to work and trying to plan what I’m going to do if I can’t work in my current field, my current profession, in television. What am I going to do to make money?”

Zaragoza described her experience with WGA at Vice, where she was a union representative on the bargaining committee, as transformative. 

“It was the first time I had a union job,” she said, “and the difference it made in feeling like I wasn’t lost, feeling like you were really part of a unit there that was fighting for the collective, dealing with bad managers, making sure my fellow workers there were getting proper severance when they did have to do layoffs — I mean so many things.”

She agreed that WGA is now asking a lot of its members, but said, “Here’s the thing: We voted for this. And we voted overwhelmingly yes because we know the importance of it. It’s asking a lot but it’s asking what we need: We need a fight. … Almost 100 percent of our membership was willing to go into the streets to picket, to give up those checks. Because we know for the collective good, the greater good, for our actual future, it’s what’s necessary. So as hard as it is, it’s what needs to be done.”

More than a month after talks on a new three-contract started between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, everything came to an end late on May 1 with just hours to go in the current contract. Despite a nearly 98% strike authorization vote mandate given to guild leaders by WGA members in April, the studios either did not take the possibility of labor action seriously or just didn’t really care. With the two sides very far apart on money, transparency, job security and even over what the role of writers in the ever-changing industry is to be, the WGA leadership declared a strike starting in the early hours of May 2.

The last time the WGA went on strike in 2007-2008, the labor action went on for 100 days.

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