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Writers Guild of America Fast Facts

CNN Editorial Research

Here’s a look at the Writers Guild of America, which represents more than 16,000 film, TV, broadcast and news media writers. It is made up of two unions, WGA, West (WGAW) and WGA, East (WGAE).


1912 – The Authors League of America is founded to protect the interests of professional writers.

1921 – The Writers, precursor to the Screen Writers Guild and operating as a social club, develops as a branch of the Authors League of America.

1933 – The Screen Writers Guild forms as a union, opening its first headquarters in Hollywood, California. John Howard Lawson serves as its first president.

1937 – The US Supreme Court upholds the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), also known as the Wagner Act, which was passed by Congress in 1935 to recognize employees’ rights to form and join unions and engage in collective bargaining.

October 10, 1940 – The guild is identified as the “exclusive collective bargaining agent for all screen writer employees” on the first producer-screen writer agreement.

1948 – The first annual awards are presented at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles.

August-November 1952 – The Screen Writers Guild and the Authors League of America go on a 14-week strike against the Alliance of Television Film Producers over royalty payments and ownership rights.

1954 – The Screen Writers Guild joins with the Television Writers of America and the Radio Writers of America to become WGAE and WGAW. WGAE is headquartered in New York, and WGAW in Los Angeles.

January-June 19, 1960 – The Writers Guild of America goes on a 21-week strike against the Alliance of Television Film Producers and against film studios that produce television shows. An agreement is reached regarding revenue from the sale of movies shown on television.

March 6, 1973-June 24, 1973 – The Writers Guild of America goes on strike for increased wages and better health benefits.

April-July 1981 – The guild goes on strike for 13 weeks for a share of the revenue from cable television.

March 5-19, 1985 – The Writers Guild of America goes on strike regarding royalties from videocassette sales.

March 7, 1988 – The guild goes on strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and television networks. Key issues are residuals from foreign and domestic reruns, retaining artistic control and the television residuals payment formula.

May 11, 1988 – “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson returns to air without guild content.

May 26, 1988 – The Writers Guild of America voters approve signing agreements with more than 70 independent production companies, including the producers of “The Cosby Show,” “The Tonight Show” and “ALF.”

June 22, 1988 – Guild members vote to reject the contract offered by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

July 6, 1988 – The guild approves a revised interim agreement to be offered to the more than 100 independent production companies who previously signed agreements with the guild. Networks including NBC, ABC, Fox and CBS say they won’t purchase new shows from producers who sign the revised deal.

July 12, 1988 – The Writers Guild of America files an antitrust lawsuit against producers and television networks, alleging an illegal boycott of independent producers who sign the interim guild agreement.

July 14, 1988 – The Writers Coalition, a 21-member breakaway group of the Writers Guild of America, files a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board seeking to nullify the guild rule that they cannot resign from the union during a strike.

August 7, 1988 – The 22-week strike ends when the guild approves the new contract, which gives writers a larger share of foreign residuals, moves from a fixed residual to a sliding residual formula for syndicated one-hour domestic TV shows and allows for more creative rights. Lost revenue from the strike is estimated at half a billion dollars. It is the longest strike in Writers Guild history.

August 1989 – WGAE joins the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

May 18, 2007 – The guild makes its position known to networks and studios that it wants a share of new media revenues, including internet, cell phones and other digital platforms where guild writers’ works are distributed. It issues a 25-item “pattern of demands” as part of upcoming contract negotiations. Another key issue is royalties from DVD sales, which were last negotiated in 1988.

July 16-October 31, 2007 – Negotiations between the guild and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) take place. Talks stall when the Minimum Basic Agreement expires on October 31.

November 5, 2007 – The strike begins. Television shows which depend mainly on topical material, particularly late-night talk shows, are expected to immediately go to reruns.

November 26, 2007 – Talks resume, only to break down on December 7.

January 2, 2008 – The “Tonight Show” with Jay Leno, “Late Night” with Conan O’Brien and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” return to air with new episodes without guild content. Due to an independent agreement with Worldwide Pants, David Letterman and Craig Ferguson return to air with their full writing staffs.

January 7, 2008 – The Writers Guild of America reaches an independent agreement with United Artists Films. Writers are allowed to return to work on the company’s productions.

January 11, 2008 – The Writers Guild of America announces an independent agreement with The Weinstein Company and Dimension Films.

January 14, 2008 – The guild announces that another interim agreement has been reached. Media Rights Capital, an independent film, television and digital studio and the guild have worked out a deal similar to the agreements with Worldwide Pants and United Artists.

February 9, 2008 – Union representatives from WGAE and WGAW announce a tentative agreement with studios.

February 12, 2008 – During a news conference, WGAW President Patric Verrone announces that 92.5% of the membership voted to end the strike, after 100 days. According to Verrone, the writers achieved two out of three of their goals in the new agreement which include:
– Any content written by guild members specifically for new media, such as the internet or cell phones, will be covered by their contract.
– The second goal relates to reuse of content in new media. The agreement bases payment for reuses on a distributor’s gross formula for residuals.

February 26, 2008 – The Writers Guild of America approves a new contract with film and television producers, formally ending the strike.

June 3, 2015 – Gawker Media announces that its employees have voted to be represented by WGAE, becoming the “first sizable standalone digital media site” to be under the union’s umbrella, according to WGAE.

January 14, 2016 – The Huffington Post becomes the biggest unionized digital media outlet by recognizing its employees’ union, WGAE. The first contract is ratified January 30, 2017, “in a near unanimous vote,” according to the guild.

February 3, 2017 – The president and executive director of WGAE issue a statement opposing national “Right to Work” legislation. The legislation gives workers the opportunity to opt-out of participating and paying union dues. “The union is obligated to represent everyone, and it makes sense that everyone is therefore obligated to pay their fair share.”

May 2, 2017 – The guild and AMPTP reach a three-year deal which avoids a potentially costly strike.

January 23, 2018 – WGAE announces that employees at Slate and Vox Media have voted to unionize with the organization.

July 29, 2020 – Staff at Hearst Magazines, one of the world’s largest publishers of periodicals, vote to form a union through WGAE.

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