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WGA to Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund: Rethink Your Position With Studios
➕ The writers guild and major studios met three (!) times this week
After the thaw, the flood: The Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers met again today — marking the third time in a week the two parties have made contact after more than 100 days of the writers strike.
Safe to say the day ended without an agreed-upon deal, but I understand that the heads of TV and film studios, from Disney’s Dana Walden and Alan Bergman to Warner Bros. Discovery’s David Zaslav, are slated to meet amongst themselves Friday to decide where to go next in the contract negotiations.
Meanwhile, guild members are still walking the pickets and making the case to major pension funds that they should re-examine their investments in entertainment companies.
Strikegeist has exclusively learned that Ozark scribe Martín Zimmerman and Eric LaRue writer and strike captain Brett Neveu appeared in front of the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund board on Thursday, urging board members to tell the major entertainment companies to end the strike and come to a fair deal with the writers.
“Your pension fund is invested in the media companies that are our employers —companies we are trying to negotiate with, and are striking against,” said Zimmerman. “Writers’ proposals would cost each company 0.2 percent or less of their annual revenues; yet this strike is now in its fourth month as the studios have yet to negotiate a fair deal, letting the whole industry — and the local economies that the industry supports — suffer.”
CTPF trustee and former Chicago Public School teacher Jay Rehak also spoke before the board, nodding to the WGA’s recent efforts to nudge the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) and California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) into similarly re-examining their investments in companies such as Netflix, Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery and other Hollywood stocks.
“I believe there is a national movement afoot by other pension funds around the country to reassess their positions with these companies,” said Rehak. “I urge the CTPF trustees to be ahead of the national movement and begin the process of discussing the long-term value of these assets with our money managers specifically as it relates to long-term labor unrest.”
WGA members and showrunners Mike Royce and Yahlin Chang had in July, before talks resumed, told CalSTRS that the major studios had been absent from the negotiating table because it wants “to keep their labor costs at rock bottom, while their CEOs hold a race to see who can build the biggest yacht.”
“Recently, CalPERS board members made a commitment to engage with the major media companies to discuss the strike’s impacts on their finances,“ said Neveu to the CTPF on Thursday. “We urge you to do the same — to express concern regarding the impact of the strike on your investments and to urge them to settle the strike to ensure stability for writers, the industry, and your investments.”
It isn’t unheard of for pension funds to divest from certain sectors or stocks. New York State’s $226 billion pension fund in 2020 began the process of selling off its stake in fossil fuel assets; Maine is also en route to doing the same.
In the most recent round of quarterly earnings reports, Hollywood’s chief execs have largely been quick to present a conciliatory face. On Disney’s earnings call last week, CEO Bob Iger softened his tone on union demands he had previously called unrealistic, telling investors and analysts that “it is my fervent hope that we quickly find solutions to the issues that have kept us apart these past few months. And I am personally committed to working to achieve this result.”
Elsewhere on The Ankler
Another Jamboree edition of Richard Rushfield’s column, in which he weighs in on the strike and offers up his assumption that “we’re on the road to wrapping this up,” as well as TSG’s lawsuit against Disney, and the revered Cinerama Dome:
When you talk about how this generation of poobahs never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity, and seems to suffer from a genetic aversion to leadership, the fate of the Cinerama Dome as detailed in this NYT piece, stands as Exhibit # 1532.
The Dome, one of the two or three great standing movie palaces, has been sitting for two years now abandoned right on the main drag of the main boulevard of the home of the movie industry, and all anyone has to say about that is, Well, let’s just wait and see what Decurion has in mind.
This is not how a proud, vibrant industry, an industry in the business of show behaves and treats the emblems of its greatness. I think maybe more than lack of leadership, that is what we suffer from here — a lack of imagination. We have accountants at the helm, not show people with show people’s sense of grandiosity and flair. Who might do something like… get together to buy the Dome and turn it into a great public exhibition hall for the best of film past and present. For instance. Or just spruce it up and show movies there.
Read the full column here at The Ankler, for paid subscribers.
Today in Strike News
Motion Picture & Television Fund president and CEO Bob Beitcher delivered a plea to the industry Thursday, bemoaning the lack of support for crew members during the strike. “They have become the forgotten casualties during these strikes, overlooked by the media,” Beitcher wrote. “Let’s face it, actors and writers make better subjects for strike stories; and now crew members are not getting the philanthropic support they’ve earned and deserve.” (The Hollywood Reporter)
The WGA is turning its attention to industry consolidation, issuing a report Thursday that refers to Netflix, Amazon and Disney as the “new gatekeepers” of the business and urged antitrust regulators to halt further streaming consolidation. “Each [studio] is now taking anti-competitive vertical integration to an extreme, turning its streaming service into a walled garden for self-produced content — a model built for and dependent on restricting the availability of independent content from competing producers, underpaying creators, and, above all, making future consolidation the name of the industry game.” (Variety)
Charity galas featuring celebrity actors have had to toe a dangerous line, given SAG-AFTRA’s restriction on appearing on red carpets with studio and streamer logos. “I think fundraising is harder,” Oceana board president Keith Addis says. “There’s a defensive sort of psychological umbrella over this town. No one knows how long these strikes are going to last.” (The Hollywood Reporter)
Despite the actors receiving tributes being unable to attend due to SAG-AFTRA rules, the Deauville American Film Festival will still pay homage to stars such as Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Peter Dinklage and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. (Variety)
Black TV and film writers “are probably at higher risk than any other group of losing their livelihoods” amid the work stoppage, says Dr. Darnell Hunt, UCLA’s executive vice chancellor and provost, and lead author of the Hollywood Diversity Report. “Black people in the industry have always occupied a rather precarious position. The strike and the conditions that gave rise to it only exacerbate the situation for Black writers as Hollywood pushes diversity and inclusion concerns to the back burner while focusing, instead, on the issues surrounding streamers and industry restructuring.” (Los Angeles Sentinel)
Grammy-nominated musician Hozier said in an interview with BBC’s Newsnight that he would consider partaking in a strike over the threat of AI to the music industry. “Whether [AI is] art or not, I think, is nearly a philosophical debate,” he explained. “It can’t create something based on a human experience. So I don’t know if it meets the definition of art.” (BBC)
Picket Sign of the Day
Bet this is a popular sign on the pickets this week…
Additional reporting for Today in Strike News by Matthew Frank.
Disclosure: Elaine Low is an inactive SAG-AFTRA member.