Membership Has Its Privileges: WGAE
East coast writers: use this informative guide to find out how your works can benefit from the protection and support of the Writers Guild of America, East.
To gratuitously evoke the old adage, making it in the entertainment industry is all about whom you know. As a member of the WGA, writers find themselves in very good company. The Writers Guild of America, East is a union representing screenwriters and writers working in animation, broadcast news, radio, and new media. Unlike IATSE, the WGAE does not secure work for its members but represents the interests of its membership in negotiating collective bargaining agreements, registering scripts, protecting copyright, and lobbying government offices. The WGA is a closed-shop labor union, meaning that only members may work for signatories of the WGAE and WGAW, such as JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot, or Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. Likewise, members may not work for non-signatory companies or producers.
The Writers Guild of America, East was formed in 1951 out of the Authors’ League of America, which was born in 1912. The Guild became affiliated with the AFL-CIO in 1989 and in 2008, staged an infamous strike to demand fair compensation for its membership from the sales and distribution of DVD releases and digital downloads. Among the objectives of the Writers Guild of America, East, are the promotion and protection of the artistic interests of its membership, representation of that membership in collective bargaining, and the advancement of fair, equitable practices within the industries that employ its membership.
The Writers Guild of America is divided into two factions: East and West. Those living east of the Mississippi River at the time of their initial membership are enrolled as members of the WGAE, and those to the west are similarly members of the WGAW. The two organizations are separate entities, though both work in tandem to represent entertainment writers. Once you become a member, you need not transfer membership upon moving. Both the east and west divisions have slightly different rule structures concerning membership, both in gaining membership and in retaining it.
Freelance contracts and minimum basic agreements cover writers working in animation, children’s television, daytime drama, digital media, documentaries, film, television comedy/variety, television episodic, and nonfiction (news). Staff news contracts and collective bargaining agreements cover writers with employment at a news company or station, as well as assignment editors, assistant producers, associate producers, graphic artists, news desk assistants, researchers, reporters, and others who contribute to written material.
Getting Your Card:
The typical means of gaining membership in the WGAE is to be hired by a signatory to the guild; signatories include individual television shows like The Daily Show or Family Guy, as well as production companies, motion picture studios, broadcast stations, and others. Likewise, if a writer sells a pilot or script to a signatory, that material is automatically covered by the WGAE, and the writer is eligible for membership. If working for a company or on a production that is not already a signatory, you have the option of contacting the WGAE and requesting information on organizing your workplace. This involves a process of gaining interest in membership among other employees and encouraging the employer to negotiate with the WGAE to become a signatory. In some instances, a group of employees may already be working under a minimum basic agreement, and staff performing similar or related tasks can contact the guild to explore options for obtaining their own contracts.
Another means of gaining membership is to make it a stipulation of your employment that the producer or employer becomes a signatory. This option works best for those with an established reputation who can reasonably command their own terms. A staff writer on his or her first gig may not find this action beneficial, as he or she has little room to make demands. In general, organizing a production as a new signatory requires a unified workforce that cooperates to bring a majority of the staff under agreement. Essentially, the staff must apply pressure—with the assistance of the WGAE—to the bosses.
Once an individual becomes a member of the Writers Guild, he or she may remain a member, regardless of employment status, as long as regular membership dues are paid. This is referred to as “remaining in good standing.”
Paying Your Dues:
The WGAE requires a one-time initiation fee of $1,500, and members are required to pay quarterly basic dues of $25, plus 1.5% of guild-covered earnings. Script registration is available to members at a rate of $10. Students with valid ID may register scripts for $17, and non-members may register for $22. The WGAE does not offer associate memberships. A declaration of dues is submitted via a paper or electronic form, subject to deadlines mandated by the Guild constitution.
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