While the Writers Guild of America may be in the news as it negotiates an agreement with Hollywood studios and producers, complex contract bargaining is just part of what the labor union undertakes in support of its membership.
Comprising 11,000 motion picture, broadcast, cable and new media writers, the union is really two, the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW), and the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), with offices in Los Angeles and New York. As such, the Guild lobbies on behalf of its members in Washington, D.C., promotes and encourages diversity in the industry and annually celebrates the craft of screen and television writing by honoring their own.
In addition, the WGA monitors, collects and distributes writer residuals and is responsible for determining writing credits and enforcing rights under the WGA agreements with production companies and individual contract rights. And to help writers protect their work, the Guild operates a registration service (or Intellectual Property Registry), which registers over 30,000 pieces of literary material each year.
Members of the Guild are encouraged to form committees and since the 1970s, various WGAW panels, such as the Committee of Black Writers and the Taskforce on Disabilities, have helped to establish programs or raise public awareness about a particular issue.
The Women’s Committee, for instance, initiated the idea for the Guild’s Hollywood Writers Report, a series of statistical studies commissioned by the WGAW that examines trends in earnings and employment among writers for television and feature film.
Committed to showcasing the work of older writers, in January the Age Awareness committee presented a reading of Oliver Crawford’s play, “Ollie, Folly and the Blacklist,” performed by older members of AFTRA at the Guild. The reading, directed by Gene Reynolds, was open to industry professionals and agents.
Zara Buggs Taylor, executive administrator for employment diversity at the WGAW, says committees often take the initiative on an issue, such as the need to broaden industry hiring practices. Taylor notes that the Latino Committee established, negotiated and administered writing programs for Latino writers at NBC, CBS and ABC.
The Guild also seeks to increase employment opportunities for writers who are Black, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian, women, over 40, disabled or freelance.