After 146 Days on Strike, Hollywood Writers Have Reached a Tentative Agreement

Late last night, the Writers Guild of America announced they have reached a tentative agreement with the Hollywood studios. The union’s negotiating committee is calling the deal “exceptional,” but it’s now up to rank-and-file writers to vote on it.

Writer and actor Cheech Manohar, second from right, strikes with other members of the Writers Guild of America outside NBC/Universal Studios in Universal City, California. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

At long last, Hollywood writers have a deal. Late last night, on day 146 of the 11,500-person-strong Writers’ Guild of America (WGA) strike that began on May 2, the union announced that it has reached a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

“We have reached a tentative agreement on a new 2023 MBA, which is to say an agreement in principle on all deal points, subject to drafting final contract language,” the WGA negotiating committee wrote in a message to membership. “We can say, with great pride, that this deal is exceptional — with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership.”

The details of the agreement remain scarce as the union’s lawyers finalize the language. Once they do so, the negotiating committee will vote on whether to recommend the tentative agreement and send it to the WGA-West Board and the WGA-East Council. Those elected bodies will then decide whether to authorize a ratification vote by the rank-and-file membership. Such votes are expected to begin taking place tomorrow. And until a vote is held and the majority of ballots are in favor of ratification, WGA members remain on strike.

In speaking with writers last night, the feeling was one of joyous relief and reflection. Some joked about how this news means they’ll have to find a job — a goof, but one that speaks to not only the hustle required to sustain oneself from one job to the next in the industry but also the truth that, no matter what one’s industry, active participation in a monthslong strike becomes a way of life in itself, a full-time job of its own.

One reflection strikes me as especially worth sharing. When I checked in with Devin Delliquanti, a writer on The Daily Show, he referred to the first time we’d met: in mid-May, on a picket line in Brooklyn, at a somewhat depressing location home to a few film lots. The picket was a small group, and we were not having much success in shutting down an active production. Some members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) respected the WGA’s picket line, but other members of the crew did not, and production carried on.

It could have been a demoralizing day: a few weeks into the strike, the writers were no longer front-page news. I was the only journalist there, and the numbers were small. But there were members of the Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). In an article I wrote after leaving the picket line, I quoted one of them, Ellen Adair, who has worked on shows including Homeland, The Sinner, and Billions: “I feel strongly about a lot of the things that the writers are striking over, from making sure that they have a minimum number of writers in a writers’ room to regulating AI.”

For Delliquanti, sentiments like the one expressed by Adair were a turning point.

“Realizing that the SAG membership was fired up enough for an authorization vote changed everything,” he says. “It wasn’t a huge rally, it wasn’t star-studded. It was a handful of people walking and talking, and it is how I will always remember this victory.”

Hollywood is an industry that runs on hierarchy and a perceived sense of scarcity: “making it” implies that others don’t. One of the most remarkable accomplishments of Hollywood’s unions is that they cut against that ethos: every member of the union is equal. The WGA members who have just waged a protracted strike saw and felt that fact. They could not win without every one of them persisting day in and day out, taking shifts on the picket line, keeping their heads up.

And they weren’t alone. Workers in the United States are moving in a way we haven’t seen in decades. Strikes are way up, and not only in Hollywood: the current United Auto Workers (UAW) strike is momentous — it’s not just historic in taking on all of the Big Three automakers at once but militant, driven by a message that workers have nothing to fear. Those workers, led by newly elected UAW president Shawn Fain, are unflinching in their assertion: now is the time to get what is rightfully theirs, and in doing so, move the ball forward for the entire working class. Countless members of the WGA proudly proclaim their desire to stand up for other workers too, as one part of a movement much larger than Hollywood.

Here’s Delliquanti on how it feels inside that movement:

The hardest moment by far was when the host of a podcast I listen to (Professor Scott Galloway on Pivot) said that the studios would break the back of our union. They would wait us out, and we had no leverage, and it was a mistake, and it would ruin us and leave us worse off. And now here we are — winning all our very fair asks. I don’t begrudge him that take, because he didn’t see what we saw. The resolve and fearlessness in the WGA, and everyone in SAG who stood up, and everyone in IATSE and the Teamsters and the crews who stood up with us, who we owe our eternal thanks and our solidarity forever.

But I just want to say that when you stand up and fight, people tell you that you will lose. And people tell you that they will break the back of your union. And that it was a mistake. And that you should be grateful for what little they offered at first, even if it’s crumbs. Don’t believe them. Stand up and fight for what you’re worth. Because fear is their weapon, but solidarity is ours.

Shortly after Delliquanti and I first met, SAG-AFTRA members did indeed hold a strike-authorization vote, returning 97.91 percent of ballots in favor of authorizing a strike, a number even higher than that returned by the strike-prone writers. Then they struck, and they are still on strike. Members of IATSE and the Teamsters’ Motion Picture Division respected their picket lines: even as this strike has meant incredible hardship for these below-the-line union members, they did not waver and turn against their fellow workers. They can be sure that writers and performers will return the favor when their own contracts with the AMPTP expire next year.

“Thank god for democratic unions willing to fight and strike to save American industries from extinction,” says Alex O’Keefe, a writer for The Bear. “This strike has to be used again and again as the shiny Hollywood example of how to beat these global mega-corporations. We had a Hot Labor Summer; we need a season two next year. We need the workers of America to unionize and strike. And Hollywood needs to show up for them when they do.”

The WGA negotiating committee, in announcing the tentative agreement last night, suspended writers’ picket lines. But in the next sentence, they encouraged members to join the lines of their fellow workers in SAG-AFTRA, to whom the AMPTP has yet to grant a single bargaining date. If negotiations proceed the way they typically have in Hollywood, the AMPTP will bring counterproposals to SAG-AFTRA that are in line with those extracted by the WGA. But this double strike has been full of surprises, so don’t consider it a sure thing just yet.

We do not yet know what is in the tentative agreement. Reports are that there are significant raises, new regulations on the development and use of artificial intelligence (apparently this was the final issue that was worked out yesterday), some form of minimum guaranteed staffing levels in writers’ rooms, and a new success-based residual in the offing. But the WGA’s bargaining committee is still respecting a press blackout, allowing the agreed-upon process to unfold in one of the only democratic institutions that remain to the working class: their union. The bargaining committee says the deal is “exceptional.” For now, anything beyond that is speculation.

WGA members are still on strike. And for these past 146 days, they maintained a truly remarkable level of unity and energy. They certainly haven’t had time to misplace their sneakers, and they’ll be out on SAG-AFTRA’s picket lines tomorrow if you want to see what happiness looks like.