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After Work: Walking The Walk

...It doesn’t take much to brighten a writer’s day you see. Just a little recognition. And a little more compensation...

Dona Gibbs talks to writers on the picket line in New York on a cold, bone-chilling November day.

US writers are on strike, demanding a fairer cash share for their work in creating motion pictures and TV shows.

"Writers just gotta write,'' says Dona. "How to get fairly paid is the rub.''

O.K., I went to see what the Writers’ Strike was all about. That is to say I went to 1515 Broadway to the picket line that the Writers Guild of American, East had formed at the Viacom headquarters.

It was raining. It’s late autumn in New York City and a cold, bone-chilling rain isn’t unusual. But then again, these are writers and it always rains on our parade.

I had searched for the picket line the day before, scanning Rockefeller Center for a giant inflatable rat. I found only scaffolding, an under-wraps, giant king of the forest Christmas tree and a dozen wobbly skaters.

Next time, I wised up and went on-line to the Writers Guild of American, East site.

I found them, walking around and around, but no inflatable rat. Instead they had chosen an inflatable pig, wearing a top hat and chomping a cigar.

When it comes to the issues in this strike, I’m not an unbiased reporter. I side with the writers, the Writers Guild of America, against the producers, the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers.

Simply put, the writer would like a share of the revenues, 2.5 percent, they believe are generated when their work is used on what’s become known as “the new media,” that is when it’s shown on the Internet, downloaded for pay from Internet sites or sold on
DVDs.

The producers say, “There are no revenues to share because everybody knows you can’t make any money on the Internet.”

The writers respond that according to a 2007 speech by Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone, “Viacom will double its revenue from digital this year.” Writers are to receive zero, unless they win at the bargaining table.

The strike captain had designated one group to rally support from passing motorists.

“Honk your horns,” they yelled to the cabbies, who’d recently staged a couple of one-day job actions.

“Yay,” the writers cheered when they got a toot in response.

It doesn’t take much to brighten a writer’s day you see. Just a little recognition. And a little more compensation.

“Is this your first time on a picket line?” I asked a bundled up woman.

“No, I was around for the last strike twenty years ago, but most of the others on the line out here are new, young writers. Many of them are right out of college.”

She had come to New York from Alabama with stars in her eyes, hoping to make it in the theater. When her dreams faded, she turned to writing for animated films -- another equally tough career choice.

I spoke to one of the organizers who was passing out placards as people signed in for their shifts. The shifts are ten to one daily at various locations around New York.

“Would this picket line look more effective if everybody wasn’t laughing and chatting?” I asked. The writers looked shiny-faced and cheerful in spite of the cold rain.

“Wait a few more weeks when it really gets cold and they haven’t gotten a paycheck for a while,” he replied.

In 1988 the strike lasted from March until April and David Letterman, a popular late night host, who often uses a comedic Top Ten list as a show opener was reduced to a Top Two of his own devising.

Since most of the season’s shows have already been completed, viewers probably won’t be impacted for a while. Last time around in 1988, a lot of news shows were born to fill the airtime.

Feeling that a strike might be coming, writers actually rushed to complete the season’s scripts.

Jonathan Adler, a labor expert who teaches at Wesleyan University in Connecticut observed,” I don’t think you would have a lot of auto workers who would want to hurry up and finish the last cars on the line.”

Since picketers’ jobs walking the line are done at one o’clock, the writers have a lot of time on their hands. So what do they do after mid-day naps lose their novelty? They write, of course.

They’re doing a great job of promoting their cause. You can see some examples on YouTube and the WGAE website.

One video makes the poignant point that writers can’t qualify for health insurance since as many as two-thirds of writers fail to earn $31,000 a year and therefore aren’t defined as “working writers.”

You can also see footage of people walking the picket line.

There is one man holding a sign, “Winter of our dissed content.”

Writers just gotta write. How to get fairly paid is the rub.

Talks resume November 26 –after the producers have digested a big Thanksgiving dinner.


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