Meredith Stiehm, president of the WGA West, got right to the point in her remarks Sunday at the guild’s 2023 award ceremony. With contract negotiations less than two weeks aways, Stiehm rallied the troops about the need for solidarity, and she emphasized the guild’s role as serving as the “good sheriff” helping to tame the Wild West for writers.
The guild, Stiehm told the crowd at the Fairmont Century Plaza, is “walking around like Gary Cooper — low key but watchful, vigilent and a little swagger.” The guild is “looking to keep the peace” but is devoted to enforcing the rules established by its contracts. “The guild says there are rules, there are laws,” she said referring to a fight that the WGA recently settled over $42 million in residual payments owed to guild members.
“The guild with its superior stuff set that right and Netflix paid that $42 million,” she said. “We stand up to people who aren’t playing fair. We’re not looking for a fight. But we’re not going to get rolled, either.”
Stiehm took a deep breath and addressed the topic that was hovering over every conversation in the ballroom.
“Negotiations are coming. We writers need a sea change in our compensation. We cannot continue to be underpaid out of our very existence,” she said. “It’s possible it could get a little rough, a little rugged. But we have been there before. We know how to stick together. We’ve done it before. Sticking together is how we win. The point of the union is to stick together…. Solidarity is everything.”
Stiehm closed by noting the situation that caused David Young, the WGA’s longtime executive director, to step down as Chief Negotiator for the upcoming talks because of a medical issue. “I’m sending well wishes to our executive director David Young,” she said, to strong applause. “The state of our union is strong.”
At the WGA East ceremony at New York’s Edison Ballroom, executive director Lowell Peterson struck the same notes.
“The way the writers get hired, the way your work gets out to the public and, most importantly, gets paid — It’s completely different than it was 15 years ago or 10 years ago,” Peterson said. “To keep pace with this transformation, we have to be getting this. We have to build the solidarity that will win the day at the bargaining table. We have to muster that solidarity. We have to bring it on. We are one union, and we are one powerful force providers. Let’s get this done right.”
(Jennifer Maas contributed to this story.)
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