WGA strike Legal Battles: Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery sent letters to showrunners reminding them of their obligation to perform non-writing duties as per their contractual agreements. These letters come at a time when the Writers Guild of America (WGA) is on strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios and streamers.
The WGA’s primary demands are increased wage floors, viewer transparency from streamers, and protections against mini-rooms and the use of artificial intelligence. While the WGA explicitly prohibits union members from performing the so-called “a-h” functions during the strike, both companies expect showrunners to perform these duties. The showrunners are caught between the demands of their union and their employers, leading to potential legal tussles. The WGA has called Disney’s actions “shameful” and a sign of familiar “union-busting tactics.”
Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery’s letters to showrunners amid the WGA strike have sparked legal battles as the guild calls the studios’ actions “shameful.”
The letter from the legal department of ABC Signature, which is owned by Disney, clarifies that the showrunners are not exempted from performing their duties due to the WGA strike. The letter, signed by Bob McPhail, the assistant chief counsel for ABC Signature, states that showrunners and writer-producers must fulfill their obligations until they receive written notification from the studio. The memo specifies that in showrunner and/or writer-producer roles, “a-h” services are considered non-writing duties, which non-writers can perform on covered projects as per the WGA contract.
The letter also includes a Q&A that informs showrunners that they are “required” to perform duties that are not in line with the WGA’s guidance to its striking members. The memo adds that showrunners and writer-producers may be required to perform “a-h” services as producers, such as cutting for time, small changes to dialogue or narration made before or during production, and changes in technical or stage directions.
The memo sent by Max, formerly HBO Max, on May 2, states that “certain services” such as participating in the casting process and/or contributing to non-writing production and post-production work are clear examples of non-WGA-required services that should continue during the strike. It also argues that showrunners should come to work, despite the WGA’s insistence that no members should cross a WGA picket line or enter the premises of a struck company for any purpose. Also, the memo also clarifies that writer-producers will not be disciplined for performing non-writing services during the strike.
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These letters potentially put showrunners and writer-producers in a difficult position, caught between the directives of their employers and their union. The WGA has noted that “a-h” services are considered writing services, and that it is shameful for Disney, which has grown its business on unionized labor, to resort to familiar union-busting tactics. Meanwhile, showrunners have expressed confusion over the Disney memo, with one veteran showrunner describing it as “odd” because it assumes that writers are not already unionized.