The Writers Strike 2023 came up in conversation the other day as bbq conversation. This is not the first time and as things continue in their stalemate fashion, I’m sure it will not be the last. But what really struck me during this particular conversation is the misunderstanding people have about why the writers are striking.
I’m appreciative that Hollywood actors joined the picket line in solidarity. I think this was imperative for the writers to make any headway. But unfortunately, I do believe their joining contributed to the confusion about the issues at hand. They say they’re fighting for the same thing, but that’s not exactly true. All I heard from multiple people during this conversation was there was no way the writers could win, AI was here to stay. I finally asked, what do you think the writers strike is about?
Every single person answered that the issue was AI and the writers’ fear of replacement. My stomach plummeted at this response and it honestly proved my worst fears about the way the media has been covering the strike. While yes, AI is a concern that’s been brought to the table, it most definitely is NOT the chief reason the writers went on strike. And it most definitely is not why they walked away from recent negotiations and are still at a stalemate.
Working conditions for many across America have worsened. I’ve written about the abuses of mislabeling “independent contractors” in the past and how we’re being forced further and further into a gig economy that does not benefit the worker. The true heart of the Writers Strike 2023 lies in this same issue.
Your Hired! Job Title: Independent Contractor
In the past, writers were picked up to be employees on set for a show. They were employed for the full season of a show, creating sixteen to twenty something episodes. Writers were paid a living wage for all of those episodes, they also received contributions to their WGA pension fund and health insurance plan. They also received residual payments for TV reruns and movie showings.
Streaming has changed all of that. With shorter seasons with fewer episodes and content coming out constantly, all the protections of previous writer contracts have gone out the window. To avoid paying for more than the studios believe they need, they’ve opted instead to fall into the corporate abuses of the gig economy.
Instead of writers being hired as employees for a full season run, they’re now being hired as independent contractors for short gigs. Those gigs are paid with minimum hourly paid contracts. They’re pushed into writing pools, think tank rooms, where they’re forced to write an entire season’s worth of episodes over the course of a few days and then they’re dismissed. There are no contributions made to their pension or health insurance and there are no residual payments.
So, what are the Hollywood writers fighting for in the Writers Strike 2023?
They are fighting for the right to be employees. This a penultimate moment in American working history. Workers across the country are losing their employee protections by being forced to “independent contractor” status. Data from 2021 showed that an astonishing 1 in 3 workers are now classified as gig workers. This number rose to a record 51 million in one year alone. A 34% jump compared to 2020. Some of this was by choice, but many were not.
Most gig work does not pay enough to cover parental leave or health insurance. This puts gig workers at a major disadvantage to other regular employees. These numbers speak for themselves, it’s time to pay attention. If we don’t want this to be the future for American workers, we need to speak up and do something about it. The Hollywood writers are taking a stand. And man, I hope it’s enough.
What are your thoughts on this issue?
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