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Striking Hollywood Writers Reach Tentative Deal with Studios After 146 Days on Picket Line

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The Writers Guild of America has announced that a tentative deal has been reached between striking writers and Hollywood studios, four months after the strikes shut down production of scripted movies and television. The WGA leadership will meet Tuesday to vote on the deal, which includes many of the demands of the striking writers, including higher pay and residual payments for streaming content and new rules about the use of artificial intelligence. “It’s not a done deal yet,” says labor writer Alex Press, who says it’s ultimately up to rank-and-file members to approve the plan.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: After 146 days on strike, the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have announced a tentative deal has been reached between striking writers and the studios. The Writers Guild’s negotiating committee told union members, quote, “We can say, with great pride, that this deal is exceptional — with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership,” they said. The deal includes many of the demands of the striking writers, including higher pay and residual payments for streaming content and new rules about the use of artificial intelligence. The WGA leadership is expected to vote on the deal Tuesday. The strike, which began May 2nd, had largely shut down the production of movies and scripted TV shows. The tentative agreement does not impact actors, who have been on strike since July 14th.

We’re joined now by labor reporter Alex Press, staff writer for Jacobin magazine who’s closely covered the writers’ strike.

Alex, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you explain what we understand at this point are the major issues that have been resolved? And then, what is the timetable for how this strike ends?

ALEX PRESS: Yeah. Thanks so much for having me, Amy, on such a positive occasion for a change.

So, as you said in your introduction here, you know, we don’t know much about the details. Descriptions of the deal right now, the tentative agreement, which, again, will have to be voted on by the membership after being approved of by both the boards on both the Writers Guild of America West and East, so it will take a few days for that vote to happen, that deal apparently includes protections around the use of artificial intelligence, which writers were worried would be used to be trained on their old scripts, to basically use their former work to train them out of future work. There are concerns around the lack of residuals in streamers. So, if you’re on Netflix, you know, it’s not like the writer is getting another payment every time there’s a rerun. There’s no such thing as a rerun; you can watch Seinfeld all day long on Netflix. So there is apparently a new form of residual that’s going to come in the form of some bonus of some sort. The details are scarce. You know, I spoke with some bargaining committee members late last night, and they said, “We’re still respecting the press blackout.” So they are not speaking. They are waiting for the process to go forward in the union.

And that process is as follows, right? So, the negotiating committee is going to vote on whether to recommend this tentative agreement. They’re going to then send it to the board of both the East and West WGA. Those elected bodies of leadership are then going to vote on whether to authorize the membership to ratify the contract, right? So, there’s a couple steps here before members are voting. You know, their elected leadership, both West and East, are going to look at the details, once those details are finalized, and make sure that this is good enough for them to even send it to the membership, right?

So, you know, I often say that unions are one of the few democratic institutions the working class in this country still have, and it’s great that they actually get to enjoy those processes that are about their say and their elected leaders’ say. So, it’s not a done deal yet. And as you mentioned, SAG-AFTRA members have yet to even meet once with the AMPTP. We can expect that that will happen soon, but, you know, never a done deal in Hollywood at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: And just to be clear, does the membership have to vote before? I mean, there’s been speculation that, for example, the late-night talk shows might be starting as early as tomorrow night or the next night. Do they have to finally vote before that happens?

ALEX PRESS: As far as I know, that is not going to happen. You know, the WGA negotiating committee was very clear that until they say so, all members covered under this contract are on strike. And so, just because they’ve suspended those picket lines does not mean that workers are going back into the offices or the proverbial writers’ rooms that might happen remotely. So, I don’t know if there’s any speculation or something on that, but nothing I’ve seen from the WGA suggests that members are to report to work.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s turn to the United Auto Workers’ strike targeting the Big Three auto makers. On Friday, the UAW expanded the strike to 38 GM and Stellantis parts distribution centers. The strike did not include any new Ford locations. Meanwhile, President Biden is planning to join the United Auto Workers’ picket line in Michigan on Tuesday, believed to be the first time a sitting president has joined strikers on the picket line. Donald Trump is planning to visit Detroit on Wednesday, so it looks like Biden wanted to get in there before that, though whether or not Trump will walk the picket line, he is fiercely criticizing the UAW leadership. President Biden has expressed support. Alex, can you talk —

ALEX PRESS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: — about the expansion and what it means for a president? It’s funny to say a “sitting” president walking the line, but it will be the walking president.

ALEX PRESS: A standing-up president, as President Shawn Fain would put it — president of the UAW, that is. Yeah, I mean, this is really a product very clearly and unambiguously of the union being militant rather than deferential, not just to Biden but to any politician. You know, the UAW has been very clear: Anyone invited to stand in solidarity on the picket line with the membership. And it’s a huge win that Biden feels that it’s necessary. Certainly, I would say about Donald Trump, you know, President Shawn Fain has been very clear that this membership and this strike is all about putting an end to the redistribution of wealth upward to billionaires and millionaires, and I think he brooks no interest in Donald Trump’s pretend interest in the working class. And, you know, I think it’s very interesting that whether you look at Trump or other of the sort of faux populist right-wing thinkers and politicians, they keep pretending that they support this strike, but they seem to never add any details to that, right? You know, Biden, on his part, did say, “Record profits, record contracts.” You’re not really seeing that from a lot of other sort of people on the right.

And so, I want to be clear here that this is a strike that is about higher wages, that’s getting money that’s owed to these workers for sacrifices they’ve made, particularly since the Great Recession. And it’s worth saying that progress has been made at Ford, at one of the Big Three here. And Ford has given — you know, they’ve tentatively agreed to certain issues — at least that is what my understanding of the progress at that negotiating table is. And some of those things include restoring the cost-of-living allowances that workers gave up at Ford during the bailout and the recession. It includes converting temporary workers to permanent workers after 90 days, whereas currently it was four or eight years that it took those workers to be converted. You know, these are big deal wins, and they are also things that the company said they could never do, and suddenly it didn’t even take an all-out strike, and you’re starting to see them do what they said was impossible.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, of course, we’ll continue to cover all of this. Alex Press, I want to thank you for joining us for this late breaking news, staff writer for Jacobin magazine, where she covers labor.

Next up, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is facing new scrutiny after ProPublica reveals he secretly participated in at least two fundraising events organized by a right-wing network founded by the Koch brothers. Back in 30 seconds.

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