Burbank’s Economy Braces for Possible Writer’s Strike

Production could come to a screeching halt if the writer's call a strike (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Burbank businesses are bracing for a possible writer’s strike as the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) members have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. The vote, which was approved by nearly 98% of the eligible voting members, authorizes the WGA West Board and the WGA East Council to call a strike if a fair deal for a new film and TV contract isn’t reached by May 1, when the current pact expires.

This is not the first time the WGA has authorized a strike. In 2017, a strike authorization was taken and approved by 96.3% of writers who cast ballots. The last strike launched by the WGA in 2007 lasted 100 days, halting productions for all 12,000 film and television screenwriters of the American labor unions.

According to the Milken Institute, the 2007 Hollywood writers′ strike dealt a blow to California’s already struggling economy and is expected to result in a loss of 37,700 jobs and $2.1 billion in lost output through the end of 2008. The impact of the strike tipped the state into a recession in early 2008, according to the report, The Writers’ Strike of 2007—2008: The Economic Impact of Digital Distribution.

The contract dispute follows a decade-long shift to streaming that has slashed writer pay and worsened working conditions, according to the unions belonging to East and West Coast branches of the Writers Guild of America.

The potential impact of a writers’ strike on Burbank’s economy has many people worried. Patrick Prescott, Community Development Director for the City of Burbank, says, “The potential for a writers’ strike is concerning as media is central to the City’s economy. We don’t know what the impact will be as it has yet to be decided which, if any, of the other unions will also participate if a strike does occur on May 1. We also don’t know how long it could potentially last, but we know that the 2007 strike lasted about 100 days and had a significant cost to the local economy. We do hope that the parties involved will continue to talk and can come to an equitable resolution for all sooner rather than later.”

Jamie Keyser, CEO of the Burbank Chamber of Commerce, agrees and says, “Many businesses in the community rely on the media and entertainment industry for their livelihood, and a pending writers’ strike could result in reduced revenues and job losses. The situation is still developing, and it remains to be seen how long the strike could last and how severe its impact could be. However, it is clear that a strike would have some economic consequences for Burbank. We encourage everyone to stay informed and take steps to mitigate the potential impacts.”

The WGA has outlined its demands, including increased minimum compensation, standardization of compensation and residual features for features, whether released theatrically or on streaming, and expansion of span protections to cover all television writers.

The guilds also demand increased contributions to the Pension Plan and Health Fund, stronger regulation of options and exclusivity in television writer employment contracts, and measures to combat discrimination and harassment and promote pay equity. The potential for a writers’ strike looms, but it remains to be seen which of the other unions will participate and how long the strike could last.

Burbank Mayor Konstantine Anthony hopes the studios negotiate in good faith to finalize a contract before May 1st. “The last writer’s strike in 2007 lasted over three months, and the local economy took a huge hit.
I’m personally hoping the studios negotiate in good faith to finalize a contract before May 1st, otherwise the working-class residents of Burbank are going to have a hard time putting food on the table.”