11/4/07

Writers employ classic shop floor strike tactics

The headquarters of the Writers Guild of America West became the command center for strike preparations Saturday as guild members met there to finalize plans for the walkout set to begin at midnight tonight.

About 300 strike captains - guild members who will serve as leaders on the picket lines - streamed into the building in Los Angeles' Fairfax district to get their marching orders from guild leaders.

Their cars crammed the parking lot of the Writers Guild, and when it was full, the captains parked in nearby lots meant for customers of Kmart and Ross Dress for Less. "People were pretty united," said Steve Skrovan, a writer for "'Til Death." "This is it. This is the time in history that a stand has to be made."

The strike preparations came three days after contract talks between writers and their employers broke down amid disputes over the amount of money writers should receive from DVDs and from shows distributed online. The writers' three-year contract expired Wednesday.

Saturday's high turnout gave a glimpse of what is expected to be well-organized and widespread picketing Monday. It is the culmination of a months-long strategy by chief negotiator David Young to mobilize the union's rank and file and prepare them for a possible strike.

Since being named executive director of the Writers Guild of America West last year, Young has borrowed heavily from his background as an organizer of garment workers, carpenters and construction laborers, employing what he calls a "classic shop floor" approach.

Strike captains are a key part of the effort. Young has heavily relied on captains not only to update guild members about negotiations but also to rally them.

The captains, each of whom are responsible for calling designated groups of writers by shows or geographic area, recently played an important role in the record turnout by guild members who voted by a 90% margin to authorize their leaders to call a strike. Captains contacted members who had not voted and urged them to do so.

The guild also established a phone bank in the headquarters Saturday to call members and alert them of developments, captains said. They left the two-hour-plus meeting to alert members of the plans for Monday, saying they had little faith that any progress would be made in last-ditch negotiations between the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers that was scheduled for this morning.

Guild members are being asked to sign up for a shift beginning at 9 a.m. or 1 p.m. and will be given signs, chants and red T-shirts emblazoned with "United We Stand" when they arrive on site, captains said. Each member is expected to picket four hours every day. Of the guild's 12,000 members, about 8,000 are in WGA West, with the remainder in WGA East, which plans to picket in New York.

Many of the members will picket outside the studios in which the shows they were working on are made, while others will be assigned to locations based on where they live.

Although several of the strike captains leaving the building said they had been asked by guild leaders not to talk to the media, others spoke passionately about the need for action.

"These are some of the most important issues writers have faced in many years," said Dan E. Fesman, a writer for "NCIS." "If we don't get these protections now, then we don't know what our futures are going to be."

Other captains talked about the message the strike would send to other unions, which they said have been largely defeated in the last few years.

"It's the middle class versus the CEOs -- maybe the middle class can win one this time," said Sivert Glarum, who has written for shows such as "Rules of Engagement" and "King of the Hill."

"This is union-wide. If we go down, they all go down."

(latimes.com)

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