Amid an ongoing strike, the Writers Guild of America East begins voting today on its new council members, including the successor for longtime president Michael Winship.
With the strike environment generating solidarity across the WGAE and its WGA West counterpart, it would seem that the election would be a straightforward affair with WGAE members on the same page about what they want from their guild.
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However, this election comes not much more than a year after the guild reached a compromise to address the WGA East’s rapid growth in recent years by creating three “work sectors” for membership: Film/TV/Streaming, Broadcast/Cable/Streaming News and Online Media.
These changes came after a significant amount of internal conflict stemming from the WGAE’s success in organizing writers at digital media outlets such as Vice Media, Vox, Bustle Digital Group and many more. There are concerns that writers who primarily focus on penning news and feature stories for digital outlets would not have the same interests, contract or policy agendas as traditional film and TV scribes. There’s also worries shared privately that lower-paid digital writers will be a drag on WGAE pension and health care funds that to date have been funded by contributions generated by the work of TV and film writers.
With these changes to the guild’s constitution, it was decided all members would vote for the President and Secretary-Treasurer officer posts, but that the WGA East would create three new VP council posts — one for each sector — and voting for those slots would be limited by membership sector.
Guild members also can only vote on WGA East contracts or strike authorization votes that affect their sector.
The WGAE council consists of 20 members: 12 Film/TV/Streaming Council members, five Online Media Council members, and three Broadcast/Cable/Streaming News Council members. Additionally, there are five officers: president, secretary-treasurer and three vice presidents, one from each work sector.
The council members and officers all serve two-year terms.
The institutional changes followed mounting tensions among the WGA East’s longtime members which were addressed in a compromise reached in April 2022. Among the other concerns, some WGAE members worried that if the WGA East were to be dominated by digital writers, more showrunners and screenwriters would opt to join the WGA West in Los Angeles, where the vast majority of members work in traditional TV and film.
“We’re very happy. The community was able to come together and reach an agreement that protects everyone’s rights and everyone’s contracts and everyone’s negotiations,” Michael Winship, president of the Writers Guild of America East, told Variety after the April 2022 vote.
Prior to this agreement, the division came to a head when two clear factions emerged in the WGA East’s Fall 2021 election for officers and board members. Candidates running on the “Solidarity” platform reflected the desire to keep broadening the WGA East tent with digital writers, while those on the “Inclusion and Experience” banner, including Winship, promoted an end to WGA East organizing digital outlets while the issues were vetted by union leaders.
At that time, Winship led the effort to bridge the gap with the goal of keeping the union from breaking up or bifurcating along more permanent lines. Winship also credited the contributions of two outside labor law experts — Susan Davis, of Cohen Weiss and Simon, and Rutgers professor Susan Schurman — for objective perspectives and cited the work of WGA East vice president Lisa Takeuchi Cullen and Secretary-Treasurer Christopher Kyle.
“They shouldered so much by helping us hammer out language and being able to reach compromise when necessary,” Winship said.
But now, Winship is no longer an option on the ballot. In his Aug. 1 announcement that he would not be seeking reelection, Winship said: “Despite having already served five terms as president, from 2007-2017, I agreed to run again in 2021 to help work out issues the guild was facing in terms of constitutional revisions and other membership concerns, but I did say then that it only would be for two years.”
From here on out, it’s up to the new regime to try to keep the WGA East’s very different sectors under one guild, while simultaneously focusing on the distinct issues that face each of those three sets of members. WGA East members who work in scripted TV and film have been on strike since May 2.
There won’t be much drama around the election of the top spots. Takeuchi Cullen is the sole contender for the president post while Kyle is the only one running for secretary-treasurer. There’s also only one name on the ballot (Erica Saleh) for VP in Film/Television/Streaming work sector. There are 13 candidates running for six council seats in the Film/Television/Streaming sector. Four names are in the running for three council seats representing the Online Media sector.
A town hall meeting featuring the candidates was held Tuesday night for the officer and Film/TV/Streaming council seat portions.
There are also 12 candidates for six council seats available in the film/television/streaming work sector: Sasha Stewart, David Angelo, Liz Hynes, Ian Olympio, Sara Montana, Sofia Alvarez, Zhubin Parang, Hallie Haglund, Nick Bernardone, Benjamin Rosenblum, Greg Iwinski and Josh Gondelman. The candidates competing for three council seats in the online media work sector are: Sie Morley, Samantha Smylie, Levi Winslow, David Lumb and Caitlin Cruz.
Voting will be available for WGAE members online or by mail beginning at 12:00 a.m. ET today, Sept. 6. Voting will take place in person on Sept. 21 at 4:30 p.m. at the WGAE office, with voting closing at 5 p.m.
Those candidates elected to positions will serve a two-year term beginning Friday, Sept. 22.
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