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As the Writers Guild of America hurtles toward a potential strike, its peer entertainment unions have been quick to offer statements of inter-union solidarity. The SAG-AFTRA national board proclaimed it stood “strongly in support” of industry scribes, while the Teamsters issued a fiery declaration that the WGA’s battle is a “shared fight.” The Directors Guild of America and IATSE called on the studios and streamers to reach a deal with the writers, and one of the latter’s Locals even sent treats to the WGA negotiating committee from beloved SoCal bakery-slash-institution Porto’s.
But, when faced with an actual picket line from writers in front of a workplace, what choices do members of other entertainment unions have? The WGA, in a missive to members, said as of the evening of May 1 that if an agreement isn’t reached with the AMPTP, “picketing will begin tomorrow [Tuesday] afternoon.” And in the labor movement, observing (in other words, not crossing) a picket line means “honoring the sense of dignity and collectivity and power of the workers [on strike],” explains history professor Nelson Lichtenstein, who directs the University of Southern California Santa Barbara’s Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy. Therefore, crossing a picket line is “a sin in the House of Labor.”
All the major entertainment unions’ contracts contain “no-strike” clauses that — while each have different language — prevent labor groups from participating in a work stoppage over the course of their respective agreements. Still, workers individually have a right to engage in “sympathy strikes,” which include when they honor a picket line formed by a union that is not their own. Of course, doing so can open workers up to consequences: While legal sources surveyed by The Hollywood Reporter disagree on whether a breach of contract claim can or might be brought against an entertainment worker as a result of engaging in a sympathy strike, they do agree that by taking part, those individuals can be subject to temporary or permanent replacements on the job, depending on the situation.
Entertainment unions have begun advising members on their rights and obligations. Here’s how they suggest workers react when faced with the quandary of a potential picket line, if the WGA goes on strike after its contract expires Monday night:
The Directors Guild of America: DGA president Lesli Linka Glatter and national executive director Russell Hollander told members in guidance issued April 18 that no one can force them to work in the event of a WGA strike. However, there could be consequences if they do not perform previously agreed-to services: “If you, as an individual, refuse to cross a picket line and perform your DGA-covered services, then your Employer has the right to replace you; if you have a personal services agreement, you may be subject to claims for breach of contract,” Glatter and Hollander said. The Guild itself must contractually assure employers that “our members will continue to perform DGA-covered services during the term of the Basic Agreement,” they added.
IATSE: In a communication to U.S. IATSE members on April 28, the crew union’s international president Matthew Loeb noted that many of its major agreements (including the Basic Agreement, covering more than 40,000 West Coast members, and USA 829’s pact) do not “expressly prohibit employees from honoring lawful picket lines” and therefore employees “retain their right to honor a lawful picket line.” Others (such as the Area Standards Agreement, covering around 20,000 workers outside of Los Angeles and New York, and many New York Local agreements) “expressly” allow employees to honor lawful picket lines. The caveat? Employers can “temporarily replace” workers who decide not to cross those picket lines. But they cannot terminate their employment except when there are “compelling business reasons” that have nothing to do with the workers’ decision about the picket line, Loeb argued.
SAG-AFTRA: The performers’ union advised members on April 30 to “continue to work” on any projects that remain in production during a potential WGA strike. If a performer decides not to report for work that they were previously committed to, the union continued, “you may be subject to breach of contract claims or be subject to termination by the Producer.” The union cited its “no-strike” clause and workers’ personal service contracts as reasons for this advice. To support writers, SAG-AFTRA advised members to walk picket lines during non-working hours (such as lunch breaks) or post on social media. The union also recommended that members not take any WGA-covered writing work during the strike: “You should not write anything normally written by striking WGA writers,” the guild said.
The Teamsters Local 399: The Los Angeles Local has repeatedly told members that “Teamsters do not cross picket lines.” In an advisory sent to members May 1, the union specified that if the WGA goes on strike, Local 399 members should not join a picket line and should report to work if there is no picket line in place when they arrive at their place of employment. However, if there is a physical line in place, “You are protected if you choose NOT to cross any active picket line of the WGA,” the union told members, due to a provision in many Teamsters contracts that protects workers from discipline when they honor such a line.
May 1, 7:24 p.m. Updated with WGA’s May 1 evening communication to members about picketing.
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