Hollywood’s long, contentious writers’ strike has ended.
Late in the day on Sunday, September 24 — after 146 days of labor stoppage, the second-longest strike in Hollywood history — the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which represents Hollywood’s writers, and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), an association of Hollywood’s largest studios and production companies, announced that an agreement had been reached. On Tuesday, September 26, the union’s leadership announced that they’d voted to end the strike and recommended the membership vote in favor of ratifying the contract.
The strike officially ended in the wee hours of Wednesday, September 27, after 148 days, and the union’s membership will begin their vote on Monday, October 2. For many, this moment is one for celebration. President Joe Biden, who is set to join striking auto workers on their picket line on Tuesday, issued a statement applauding the writers’ tentative deal. “There simply is no substitute for employers and employees coming together to negotiate in good faith toward an agreement that makes a business stronger and secures the pay, benefits, and dignity that workers deserve,” he said.
What does the agreement say?
Following the leadership’s vote to end the strike and recommend the membership ratify the contract, the WGA released details of the new agreement via a simplified memorandum of agreement (MOA). “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 announced.
The exact language of the contract is yet to be released. But from the WGA summary, it appears the union was successful in its effort. The MOA includes increases to minimum wage and compensation, increased pension and health fund rates, improvements to terms for length of employment and size of writing teams (which had been shrinking drastically in recent years), and better residuals (which are like royalties), including foreign streaming residuals.
The MOA also lays out terms for artificial intelligence, with an agreement that doesn’t prevent writers or productions from making use of generative AI but prohibits using software to reduce or eliminate writers and their pay. “A writer can choose to use AI when performing writing services, if the company consents and provided that the writer follows applicable company policies, but the company can’t require the writer to use AI software (e.g., ChatGPT) when performing writing services,” the MOA states.
Additionally, “the WGA reserves the right to assert that exploitation of writers’ material to train AI is prohibited by MBA or other law” — a major issue given many authors’ recent discovery that their work is being used to train AI owned by Meta and other companies.
Since the terms of one contract tend to set the pattern for future contracts, the WGA contract is likely to influence the terms of SAG-AFTRA’s ongoing negotiations as well as contracts in other sectors and industries.
Does this mean the writers aren’t on strike?
At last, the answer is yes. But this isn’t all buttoned up yet.
The negotiating committee recommended the agreement to the union’s leadership on Sunday, September 24, and the union suspended picketing. (The union encouraged WGA members to join the SAG-AFTRA and UAW picket lines in solidarity in the meantime.) On Tuesday, September 26, leadership announced that they’d voted to recommend that membership ratify the contract.
At that time, the leadership also voted to end the strike. Writers now can “return to work during the ratification vote,” the WGA explained. But this does not affect “the membership’s right to make a final determination on contract approval,” according to the union.
This timeline is similar to the events ending the last strike, which happened 15 years ago. The WGA and AMPTP held their final meeting on February 9, 2008, and reached a tentative deal. The WGA filed a strike termination two days later, on February 11, and the next day, the writers voted to end the strike. The WGA then ratified the new contract two weeks later, on February 26. Members could reject the deal, but it’s very unlikely.
On the AMPTP side, there’s no vote to be had — the offer is the offer.
Are the actors in SAG-AFTRA still on strike?
Yes. The SAG-AFTRA strike is separate from the WGA strike, and until an agreement is reached between the AMPTP and SAG-AFTRA, the actors remain on strike. Most production, for obvious reasons, can’t resume until that strike ends.
However, the WGA’s agreement with the AMPTP historically sets the template for Hollywood’s other trade unions. The DGA (which represents directors) already ratified an agreement in June, averting its own strike. But the WGA’s agreement will likely help set the tone for a SAG-AFTRA agreement.
SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP announced on Wednesday that they’ll resume negotiations on Monday, October 2.
Does this mean everything’s going to go back to normal?
No. TV and film production doesn’t happen overnight, and while it will likely ramp up rapidly once the actors come back to work, the lengthy strike has caused inevitable delays and hiccups.
The fall TV schedule, for instance, is largely full of reality and game shows; we won’t see a return to “normal” for a while. However, talk shows such as Drew Barrymore’s can now return to the air without risking censure from the WGA. Similarly, the late-night talk shows helmed by Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, and Seth Meyers announced they will return on Monday, October 2; Last Week Tonight, hosted by John Oliver, returns on Sunday, October 1. It appears Saturday Night Live could be back quickly, too, as that show is unstruck for actors, as part of the Network Television Code. Scripted TV and shows that haven’t already been filmed remain on hiatus as long as the actors are still striking.
It seems unlikely that movies like Dune: Part Two, which was pushed into 2024, will be pulled back onto the 2023 schedule once actors and writers are permitted by their unions to promote work again. But once SAG-AFTRA’s strike ends, risks of further delays will drop off.
October had long been seen as kind of a last-ditch moment for an agreement to be reached without catastrophic meltdowns in the industry. That said, many workers inside and outside Hollywood have incurred immense financial losses during the strike, and studios like Warner Bros. Discovery, which initially saw a bump to their bottom line, have projected lower earnings for 2023, by $300 million to $500 million.
Once we see the agreement, we’ll know exactly how much of an effect the strikes had on the future of Hollywood. For now, though, the focus is likely to be on recovery, in an industry that’s already reeling from years of potentially bad financial decisions, Covid delays, and existential struggles.
Update, September 28, 9:45 am ET: This story was originally published on September 24 and has been updated multiple times, most recently with information about the date on which SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP will restart negotiations.
Correction, September 28, 8:57 pm ET: A previous version of this story misstated the record length of the strike. It’s the second-longest writers’ strike, ultimately lasting 148 days; the longest, in 1988, lasted 154 days.
Correction, September 25, 10 am ET: A previous version of this story misstated Warner Bros. Discovery’s 2023 earnings projections; the studio is predicting lower earnings of $300 million to $500 million as a result of the strikes.