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Editorial: Next Time, Remember Real Victims of Strike

Feb 17, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The strike is over, and both the Writers Guild of America and the media companies can credibly tell their respective constituencies that they came out winners. But during the collective sigh of relief the television industry releases, writers and studios should remember the TV professionals who gained nothing, and lost much, from the conflict.
If the proposed agreement is approved by WGA members in a final vote this month, writers will get a slice of the revenue pie from shows that are streamed across the Web or cellular devices. It’s a crucial precedent, and most writers probably would agree that sacrificing three months of pay is a small price to pay for the principle.
Studios and networks likely also won’t regret the 100-day work stoppage more than marginally. Sure, network audiences will continue to erode, and that process may accelerate slightly because of strike defections. But any loss in advertising revenue at the networks and studios probably was largely compensated for by a commensurate reduction in spending.
Which brings us to the true victims of the strike: The tens of thousands of crew members, caterers, costumers and other workers whose livelihoods dried up for more than three months.
They receive no back-end benefits from the strike. They get no bragging rights. Economists’ estimates of economic losses from the strike range between $350 million and almost $1 billion.
Both the writers and the media companies are culpable for this collateral damage, and they ought to be ashamed. It would be cynical—and convenient—for union leaders and TV executives to say the strike dragged out because that’s just the way tough negotiations go.
The unworthy nature of those positions was laid bare when the Directors Guild of America reached a tentative agreement with the media companies in one week of talks. In light of that speedy resolution, the WGA leadership and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers should feel chastened.
They took the positions they did for predictable reasons. On the studio side, no executive wanted to be seen as giving away money that could be pocketed. And no union boss wanted to be accused of being too accommodating. They were playing to their bases.
There are more negotiations coming up. The Screen Actors Guild will negotiate a new deal this spring. And the writers will be back to the table when this deal expires. Let’s hope next time, both sides’ better angels take the lead.

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