Writers Guild of America West members paid more dues than ever before on record earnings in the year before the ongoing strike, although a good part of that may be due to a speed-up in pre-strike production.
Exact figures aren’t available because the guild did not include earnings and employment data in its latest financial statement that before now always accompanied its annual reports. “Because of the strike, we are omitting the state-of-the-industry data that normally accompanies the financial statement,” the latest report states.
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But membership dues collected by the guild in the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2023 – just a month before the strike began on May 2 – were included in the latest report, and they provide a good indication of covered earnings because the vast majority of dues is based on earnings.
According to its most recent annual financial report, dated June 29, the guild collected $41,585,533 in member dues and initiation fees in the year before the strike began – an all-time high that was up 24.6% from the prior year’s $33,374,582, and 14.6% higher than the previous record-high of $35,978,198 for the fiscal year that ended just as the Covid pandemic was beginning in March 2020. Inflation, however, accounts for part of those percentage increases.
Unlike all past years, the latest annual report left out what the guild calls “The Marketplace for Writers,” a detailed overview of members’ employment, residuals and earnings from all income streams.
By excluding its marketplace data from this year’s annual report (read it here), the guild has kept prying eyes from viewing the latest employment, earnings and residuals data. The password-protected site is for members only, but the data inevitable finds its way into the press around this time of year. But not this year.
Pre-Strike Writer Employment Surge?
Last fiscal year’s record-setting earnings may not necessarily indicate writers were doing all that much better than before the strike, but rather may be indicative of a pre-strike production speed-up, as was the case before the last WGA strike, a 100-day affair that lasted from November 5, 2007 to February 12, 2008.
Fifteen years ago, in its annual report for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2008, the guild said that “For a calendar year of writing truncated to ten months by the 2007 strike, earnings reported by WGAW writers surprisingly reached a new all-time record. This high-point reflected accelerated work on feature film scripts in anticipation of the squeeze between the potential WGA and SAG strikes. Thus, a trend cannot be expected. Television earnings declined, reflecting the loss of two months of television series production. What’s more, the number of writers employed continued to stagnate.”
The Screen Actors Guild didn’t go out on strike back then, but SAG-AFTRA is now in the fourth day of its first strike against the film and TV industry since 1980, and the first at the same time with writers since 1960.
Back during the last strike, the WGA West didn’t have the option of omitting its marketplace data because that strike began and ended between the dates of its annual reports.
WGA’s Operating Surplus & Strike Fund
In its latest annual report, the guild said that its “financial position at the end of the fiscal year was strong,” ending with total net assets of over $99.7 million. The guild had an operating surplus for the fiscal year of $7.5 million, based on total revenues of just over $45.6 million. The financial report does not reflect the financial impact of the ongoing MBA work stoppage, which began on May 2, 2023.”
The latest annual report also notes that prior to the strike the guild had a strike fund totaling $19,297,571, all of which had been set aside to provide loans or grants to members adversely affected by a work stoppage. That’s more than double the $9.2 million it had set aside in a strike fund in advance of the 100-day strike of 2007-2008, so the guild appears to be well-positioned to withstand a strike this time even longer than the last one.
Dues are a good indication of earnings because they’re calculated at 1.5% of covered earnings – including residuals – plus “basic dues” of $25 per quarter payable even if a member has no compensation or residuals in the quarter.
According to its latest financial report filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, known as LM-2s, the WGA West has 25,120 dues-paying members, of which 11,810 are deemed “current” and eligible to vote in the guild’s upcoming elections. So at $100 a year, “basic dues” account for about $2.5 million of the total collected each year.
The WGA West notes that it also administers a residuals distribution program and performs other services on behalf of writers represented by WGA East, noting, “WGAE pays to WGAW as compensation for these services 13.25% of screenwriter and certain television writer dues revenue WGAE collects each calendar quarter.”
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