3 May 20234 minute read

Writers Guild of America strike: The strike rules, and how the unions are advising their members

As of May 2, 2023, the leadership of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) has called a strike for its members, after failing to agree to a deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) that would serve as the backbone of a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). This marks the first non-pandemic shutdown in the entertainment industry since the WGA’s last strike, which began in late 2007 and lasted 100 days into 2008.

The WGA has published a list of rules setting out prohibited conduct by WGA members, including notice requirements and strike support activity.

  • WGA members are prohibited from performing any writing services for a company represented by AMPTP (known as a “struck company”)
  • WGA members are prohibited from participating in meetings or conversations (including pitch meetings) regarding the engagement of their writing services on new, pending or future projects with a struck company and
  • Lawyers, agents and other literary representatives are prohibited from negotiating deals for new, pending or future projects on behalf of their WGA member clients while the strike is ongoing.

Additional considerations

The WGA strike rules apply to fiction podcasts covered by a WGA CBA, in addition to the more traditional forms of audio-visual content. The WGA strike rules also apply to animation series covered by the WGA CBA, however, WGA members who want to perform writing services in connection with fully animated theatrical features are instructed to consult with WGA staff to determine whether such writing is prohibited.

Companies represented by AMPTP in the negotiations with the WGA can also expect WGA members to request the return of any writer-owned “spec” literary material.

The WGA strike rules also apply to “hyphenates” – WGA members who also produce, direct, or act in projects. Hyphenates are allowed to continue working during the strike but cannot provide writing services on WGA projects or non-WGA projects. Hyphenates cannot make changes to any scripts, contribute to editing decisions, or take direction or suggestions related to a story or screenplay.

The no-strike clause, a provision in most collective bargaining agreements, promises that union members will not engage in strikes during the term of the agreement. In the face of the WGA strike, other Hollywood unions have advised their members (who are not WGA members) that although they cannot be forced by their employers to work, they may be subject to replacement or termination.

Guidance from the unions

DGA: The DGA (the directors’ guild) issued guidance to its members that while they cannot be forced to work in the event of a WGA strike, employers have the right to replace DGA members who refuse to cross a picket line to perform previously agreed-to services. The DGA also assured employers that their members “will continue to perform DGA-covered services during the term of the [DGA] Basic Agreement.”

SAG-AFTRA: SAG-AFTRA (the actors’ guild) advised its members to “continue to work” on any projects that are in production while the WGA is on strike. The guild also urged its members to “not write anything normally written by striking WGA writers”.

IATSE: IATSE (IATSE Local 839, the union for crew personnel), which includes The Animation Guild (TAG, the union for animation artists, writers and technicians), informed its members that they have the “legal right” under IATSE’s CBA to honor the WGA’s picket lines, although there is a risk they will be temporarily replaced with non-union workers. Writers working on productions also staffed by WGA writers can continue to perform services other than WGA covered services.

Teamsters Local 399: Teamsters Local 399 (the union for drivers and casting professionals, among others) sent an advisory to its members telling them they are prohibited from joining a picket line but making clear that they are protected if they choose not to cross an active WGA picket line.

WGC: WGC (the writers’ guild in Canada) advised its members to follow the WGA strike rules and not accept any work that a striking WGA member would be prohibited from taking.

Going forward

The foregoing rules and guidance from the Hollywood guilds and unions may evolve and change as the WGA strike persists. The DLA Piper Media, Sport and Entertainment Team is monitoring developments closely. Should you have any additional questions or want further updates, please contact Tom Ara, Katherine Imp, or David Markman.