The Writers Guild of America passed a strike authorization vote with 97.85% in favor, giving union leaders the power to call a strike once the contract expires on May 1.
In an email to members, the guild said 78.79% of eligible members voted. The vote was 9,020 for and 198 against.
“These results set a new record for turnout and percentage support in a strike authorization vote,” the guild said. “Our members have spoken. You expressed your collective strength, your solidarity and the demand for meaningful change in overwhelming numbers. Building on this show of unity and determination, we will continue to work at the negotiating table to achieve a fair deal for all writers.
Talks between the union and the Alliance of Film and Television Producers were due to resume on Monday afternoon. The two sides have met only a few times over the past two weeks, as the guild has focused on rallying its members to support the authorization.
The vote was widely expected and does not make the strike inevitable. The union said the aim was to increase the influence of the negotiators as the talks progress.
Some guild members also argued that a higher percentage of upvotes would make a strike less likely. The idea is that it would communicate that the guild is united and make studios less inclined to try to test its strength in a strike.
In 2017, the guild voted 96.3% in favor of strike authorization and did not strike. In 2007, 90.3% voted to authorize a strike, and the guild went on strike. The guild also went on strike in 1988, after 97% voted for permission.
This time the WGA is seeking a major overhaul of writers’ compensation, including a huge increase in minimums, a better formula for residuals on streaming platforms, and a minimum staffing requirement for all TV shows.
On Monday morning, the AMPTP released a statement saying the outcome of the strike authorization vote “should come as no surprise to anyone.”
“Our goal is, and continues to be, to reach a fair and reasonable settlement,” the alliance said.
The AMPTP delivered a response to the union proposals on Friday, and talks are expected to resume this week.
Negotiations began on March 20, but the first few days consisted largely of speeches. Relatively little progress has been made on key issues, raising concerns that negotiators will not have enough time to reach agreement on every point.
In addition to the pay issues, the guild also proposed a new rulebook that would allow artificial intelligence in screenwriting, as long as it doesn’t negatively affect writers’ credits and pay. Although the guild faced a public backlash after Variety first reported the proposal last month, and appeared to back down in a series of tweets, the union neither withdrew nor amended the proposal.
The union is also looking to address options and exclusivity. In an age of shorter TV seasons and longer hiatuses, writers often don’t have the ability to look for other work during downtime. SAG-AFTRA recently marked a significant victory on this frontwinning a contract for three-month “conflict-free windows” between seasons, during which TV actors are free to accept any outside work they choose.
If it appears that progress is being made, the WGA and AMPTP could extend the talks for a few days past the May 1 deadline, or even longer.