Writers Guild delays contract talks, possible strike due to coronavirus pandemic

Posted Wednesday, March 25, 2020 8:19:05 AM

The Writers Guild of America says it will not seek a strike vote while the nation deals with the current COVID-19 pandemic. Many believed the WGA would strike later this year, leaving daytime dramas and other shows in a lurch.

The current coronavirus pandemic has brought the world to a standstill, and that includes all four daytime dramas, which have suspended production due to the spread of the virus. Now the health situation is poised to affect soap operas in a different way: it could delay the Writers Guild of America from striking, which many Hollywood insiders had believed would happen when the guild's current contract with film and television studios expires this May.

The WGA was scheduled to begin talks this week, but in an email to members on Tuesday, obtained by the Los Angeles Times, the union's leaders said that due to the statewide rules on social distancing, it could not "effectively negotiate this important three-year agreement in our usual fashion" and that it might not be possible to bargain a new three-year contract by the May 1 deadline. However, members will be able to continue to work under the existing 2017 agreement, and as the email states, the union will not be asking for strike authorization "in the interim."

Prior to the COVID-19 situation, studios and networks had begun preparing for the possibility of a WGA strike, as writers have been in a months-long conflict with agencies over packaging and other industry practices deemed harmful to writers. As reported by the LA Times, the union, which previously went on strike in 2007 for 100 days, has been mostly focused on the concern that some of its writers haven't profited from the streaming revolution that has changed how writers, actors, and directors are compensated.

For the moment, WGA leaders say they are discussing a potential contract extension, but they say, "This is not a time for rash decisions or pressured outcomes. Instead we are conferring with public health authorities, financial analysts, other guilds and unions, legislators, benefit fund experts and others to gather information as the situation continues to evolve."

As Soap Central readers may recall, the WGA strike of 2007 led to a four-month-long halt on the entertainment industry that caused soap opera storylines to suffer as random staffers took the place of established writers. Though a handful of so-called "financial core" writers from All My Children, One Life to Live, General Hospital, and The Young and the Restless crossed picket lines and were allowed to legally return to work, most of the daytime drama material that hit the screen during the strike period was written by people who were not part of the shows' established writing teams.

However, there was one silver lining to the strike: with primetime series being forced to air reruns, several high-profile actors were out of work and turned to soap operas for their paychecks. This led to fan favorites like Sarah Brown, Rebecca Budig, Debbi Morgan, and Darnell Williams returning to the genre, as well as guest appearances by non-daytime actors like Shirley Jones and Mario van Peebles.

The current WGA contract situation and strike delay follows an exciting WGA moment in the soap world: in February, the writing team of The Young and the Restless took home the Daytime Drama writing award, putting an end to General Hospital's five-year winning streak.

What do you think about the WGA postponing contract talks and the possibility of a strike? How do you think a possible WGA strike would impact soap operas? We want to hear from you -- so drop your comments in the Comments section below, tweet about it on Twitter, share it on Facebook, or chat about it on our Message Boards.

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