Podcast / Start Making Sense / Jul 27, 2023

The Teamsters Win, but Hollywood Continues to Strike

On this episode of the Start Making Sense podcast, John Nichols reports on the UPS contract, and Ben Schwartz comments on SAG and the WGA.

The Nation Podcasts
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Here's where to find podcasts from The Nation. Political talk without the boring parts, featuring the writers, activists and artists who shape the news, from a progressive perspective.

The Class Struggle This Summer | Start Making Sense
byThe Nation Magazine

The Teamsters reached a historic agreement for UPS workers this week, protecting and rewarding more than 340,000 UPS Teamsters nationwide. We had been headed for the biggest strike in decades, scheduled to start next week, but now we have what looks like one of the biggest labor victories in decades. The Nation’s John Nichols is on the Start Making Sense podcast to report.

Also on this episode: Hollywood actors and writers have been on strike–the Writers Guild of America since May, and the Screen Actors Guild since July 14. The studios are showing no signs of settling. WGA member and Nation writer Ben Schwartz joins the show. He argues that the studios and streamers are likely to fracture before the unions do.

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United Parcel Services (UPS) workers walk a “practice picket line” on July 7, 2023, in the Queens borough of New York City, ahead of the UPS strike.

United Parcel Services (UPS) workers walk a “practice picket line” on July 7, 2023, in the Queens borough of New York City, ahead of the UPS strike.

(Timothy A. Clary / AFP via Getty Images)

The Teamsters reached a historic agreement for UPS workers this week, protecting and rewarding more than 340,000 UPS Teamsters nationwide. We had been headed for the biggest strike in decades, scheduled to start next week, but now we have what looks like one of the biggest labor victories in decades. The Nation’s John Nichols is on the Start Making Sense podcast to report.

Also on this episode: Hollywood actors and writers have been on strike–the Writers Guild of America since May, and the Screen Actors Guild since July 14. The studios are showing no signs of settling. WGA member and Nation writer Ben Schwartz joins the show. He argues that the studios and streamers are likely to fracture before the unions do.

The Nation Podcasts
The Nation Podcasts

Here's where to find podcasts from The Nation. Political talk without the boring parts, featuring the writers, activists and artists who shape the news, from a progressive perspective.

Our Failing President, and Our Right-Wing Court | Start Making Sense
byThe Nation Magazine

On this episode of Start Making Sense, John Nichols on Biden, and David Cole on the Court’s big 6-3 decisions. Biden’s efforts to renew his candidacy are “risk-averse, uninspired, and dangerously misguided” – that’s what John Nichols says, as we review the efforts to persuade him to drop out of the race.

Also: During the Supreme Court term that just ended, the conservative majority granted new constitutional rights to hedge fund managers, big business—and Donald Trump. David Cole explains the shocking decisions that have transformed our government.

Finally, Jane McAlevey died Sunday–she was The Nation's strikes correspondent, and one of our best.

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Jon Wiener, host: From The Nation magazine, this is Start Making Sense. I’m Jon Wiener. Later in the show: class struggle in Hollywood: the actors and the writers have been on strike – the writers since May, the actors since July 14. And the studios show no signs of settling. Ben Schwartz will comment. But first: 340,000 Teamsters have had a huge victory in their battle with UPS. John Nichols will explain – in a minute.

[BREAK]

JW: On Tuesday, the Teamsters reached a historic agreement for UPS workers, protecting and rewarding more than 340,000 UPS Teamsters nationwide. We had been headed for the biggest strike in decades, scheduled to start next week, but now we have what looks like one of the biggest labor victories in decades. For that story, we turn to John Nichols. He’s national affairs correspondent for The Nation and author most recently with Senator Bernie Sanders of the book, It’s Okay to Be Angry About Capitalism. John, welcome back.

John Nichols, guest: It’s a pleasure to be with you.

JW: The Teamsters are America’s biggest union, and their UPS contract is the single largest private sector collective bargaining agreement in North America. So this is big.

JN: Yes, this was going to be big no matter what happened. If there was a strike, it would be one of the biggest strikes in American history. If there’s a settlement and it’s a good settlement, it’s obviously one of the biggest victories in American history, and the Teamsters are describing this as the best UPS contract in history, and Bernie Sanders is calling it a major victory for the American working class. And so the initial reviews are very good.

JW: Let’s start at the beginning of the year with the issues going into the negotiations. Obviously, first of all, money, but there were some other big ones.

JN: Yeah. There are a lot of issues going into this, and not least of which are the disparities within the kind of working sectors within UPS because you have full-time workers, and these are – we know a lot of these folks. Those are the guys coming in the truck and jumping out and running into your door. There are also a lot of part-time workers. There are workers who you never see and who in many cases were paid at a significantly lower level. And what you saw with this struggle was a situation where the Teamsters from early on developed a message that they were going to seek improvements for everybody. But one of the key things they were going to seek to do is to bring up wages for those part-timers and to eliminate some of the two-tiered circumstances within the contract.

JW: Let’s talk about that two-tiered system. This is the system where new hires get not only less money, but worse benefits than existing union members. It’s a classic divide and conquer strategy. And the Hoffa regime accepted it.

JN: Right. The previous leadership of the Teamsters had accepted a two-tier. And what Sean O’Brien said when he ran for the general presidency of the union was that he wanted to address things like that from a classic labor union perspective saying, ‘If you’ve got a two-tier, it’s going to be used against you, right?’ It’s going to be used to divide as you suggest, but it’s also over time with the pattern of hiring, you’re going to end up with a situation where your unit is weaker because the people at that lower pay level are often part-timers and folks like that, they’re going to be folks that are put into a tougher situation. So the union itself goes through a lot of struggles.

What O’Brien said was, ‘No, we need to have a clear one-tier circumstance where if you’re hired, you get on that seniority scale and you start moving up to those quite high levels of pay.’ And this appears to be – it’s certainly what they negotiated on. It appears to be what they’ve gotten. We haven’t read the whole contract yet and seen every word, every i and every t, dotted and crossed. But what the union is saying is that they’ve effectively eliminated a substantial portion of the two-tier, if not all of them.

JW: In addition to money and the two-tier system, there was another issue: I hear it’s hot in America these days.

JN: Yes.

JW: I hear it’s very hot inside trucks.

JN: That’s right. These trucks are not air-conditioned. If you’ve seen the trucks, they’re ubiquitous in America, right? You see them on every street, and they move slowly down the street. They’re open on each side so that the driver who is also the delivery person – as that driver pulls up, they’ve got to go back into the back of the truck, grab what they’ve got, and then run out to your door, pop it on your door, then run back, and then drive another 10 houses up the street or whatever. And that is on a super hot day – you never even get much of a breeze going there if you’re working in an urban setting. And this is one of the things that the union has said — is that the conditions of the drivers for a variety of reasons, they need to improve. And it’s the 21st century.

You ought to be able to create a circumstance where on a Phoenix, Arizona 109-degree day, you can at least have some protection from heat exhaustion. And if I can just add, Jon, we’ve just had some tremendous research by institutes and other entities that study the condition of workers in America. And what they tell you is that extreme heat has a devastating impact on workers and frankly, a devastating impact on the economy. And so employers need to be pressured to address this in all sorts of settings, everywhere from the sometimes horrific circumstances of migrant laborers all the way up to folks who are driving in trucks and situations like this.

What the Teamsters contract does is put this issue front and center. It gets people talking about it, not only within their sector, but it’s something we should as we are right now, discuss as a broader goal. And I’ll mention that Congressman Greg Casar out of Texas today is on a thirst strike, literally not drinking water for a substantial period of time to highlight the fact that we have so many conditions, so many circumstances in the United States where workers aren’t given adequate cooling and sometimes aren’t even given access to water. So bringing these issues up to the forefront, these circumstances of your workplace, that’s a big deal. And the Teamsters put a big emphasis on it in this negotiation.

JW: I understand what they got was that all new trucks will be air-conditioned and all existing trucks will get two fans in front and ventilation in the back.

JN: This is an important thing because I know Teamster drivers, in fact, I’m working on some stories about all this. I’ve talked to folks, and they’ll tell you, boy, going back into the back of that truck on a 100-degree day, that is really hot back there. But I can tell you that these are real improvements for workers.

JW: Let’s talk specifics about the money. What exactly did they win?

JN: Well, there’s a lengthy set of different amounts in different circumstances. For instance, and I’m just looking at my chart here so I can tell you the right amount. According to the Teamsters, they’ve got historic wage increases. Existing full and part-time UPS Teamsters will get $2.75 more per hour in 2023 and $7.50 more per hour over the length of the contract. So that’s a pretty substantial amount of cash. Also, existing part-timers will be raised up to no less than $21 per hour immediately. So we’ve got some really substantial bumps there. Finally, one other thing I’m going to mention here is, again, according to the talking points that have come out from the Teamsters this morning, general wage increases for part-time workers will be double the amount obtained in the previous UPS Teamsters contract. And existing part-time workers will receive a 48% average total wage increase over the next five years.

JW: Yeah, that is huge. Join the union, get a 48% wage increase. Sounds pretty good.

JN: That’s a big deal. And it’s frankly, as the Teamsters have argued, it’s good for UPS too because once you start to create a better circumstance for those part-timers, they’re much more likely to stick around and to become long-term employees.

JW: And finally, wage increases for full-timers will have an average top rate of $49 per hour. So the question here is, how did they do it? Let’s talk about how the Teamsters got new leadership and how they threw out the old Hoffa dynasty.

JN: It’s a very interesting circumstance that occurred here. The Teamsters, they’re not a new union. They’ve existed since 1903, and they have historically been a union that has worked in transportation sectors but has expanded so much into warehousing and just almost every sector of the economy. You can imagine back in the 1950s, 1960s, Teamsters had a very dynamic leader, Jimmy Hoffa, who was a controversial figure by any measure, but was a very tough, strong union leader and got a lot of attention, not least in his disappearance and death. He was epic and historic. And his son, James Hoffa came into the leadership of the Teamsters not immediately after Jimmy Hoffa’s death, but over time and was a longtime leader of the union. And he was actually in some areas, relatively progressive, but controversial in other areas. And there was always a lot of folks within the union who felt that A, the union wasn’t small-d democratic enough and B, the union didn’t fight hard enough in many of these struggles with the bosses.

JW: Let’s just name them: Teamsters for Democratic Union, TDU. They’ve been at this for decades.

JN: And a great group that has fought often really uphill battles over time. And in, I think it was 2017, 2018, Sean O’Brien, who was the head of the Teamsters in the Boston area, and really a major leader in the New England area, indicated that he was going to run against Hoffa for the leadership of the union. After a period of time, Hoffa decided that he would not run for another term. At that point, the Hoffa team put up its own candidate. Sean O’Brien ran against that candidate. And a couple of years ago, they had the election and Sean O’Brien won. And this is a pretty historic victory in and of itself because you brought a whole new branch of the union into a leadership position.

And it wasn’t just TDU, it was a lot of folks who had been active, and some of them closer to the old-line folks, some of them more independent in many of the other sectors of the unions being represented. But the bottom line is that O’Brien’s victory was a real transitional moment for the union. And O’Brien hit the ground running. He has been an incredibly activist leader. He’s tough. He’s strong. He travels constantly around the country. He’s on the picket lines. And one of his core messages was one of less concessions, more fighting, fight for good contracts.

JW: And indeed, the strike preparations that they’ve been undergoing for the last month have been pretty awesome.

JN: Oh, it’s been amazing. One of the things that they’ve done, two things, the Teamsters have gotten very, very good at social media. And so they’re all over social media with all sorts of instantaneous communications about the struggle they’re in. They’re connecting people up via Twitter and Facebook and everything else that they’ve got. But beyond that, it’s a commitment to transparency. And it was really fascinating that sort of at every step of this UPS negotiation, the Teamsters were telling you exactly where things were at, whether they were in negotiation, whether they were out, what their fighting for, what their timeline is. And they established a very rigid timeline saying they didn’t want this thing to drag on after the end of July when the contract was up, if there wasn’t an agreement, they’re going on strike. And so they communicated all this, and then they asked their locals and their members across the country to do strike preparation rallies and marches, preparing for a strike.

And so they put thousands of people on the street outside UPS stations and offices and things with the message, ‘This is what it’s going to look like if we don’t get a contract.’ And I think it was really, in many ways, a new model for how to take on a very powerful corporation, very profitable corporation. And then the last thing they did that was really interesting was they put an emphasis early on solidarity. And so they were backing other strikes like the actors’ strike, the writer strike in Hollywood. And they were welcoming signs of solidarity, signals of solidarity from other unions, but also from activist groups, community groups, leaders across the country and members of Congress. That was one of the most interesting things. They worked hard to make sure that they had indications of bipartisan support in Congress if they go on strike. And so bottom line is that they worked on multi-levels to make sure that this potential strike, if it was to occur, would have massive support the day that workers had to walk out.

JW: We know that the Teamsters are thinking about what’s next. They are not going to rest with this achievement. They know FedEx is non-union. They know Amazon drivers and warehouse workers are non-union. And when the new Sean O’Brien team took office, they said their number one goal was to win a contract with UPS that they could show to Amazon drivers and warehouse workers and say, ‘Look what you can get if you join our union.’ If and when the Teamsters take on Amazon, that will be huge.

JN: What Sean O’Brien and his team could have said when they came in was, ‘Our number one goal is to organize Amazon.’ And that would’ve gotten a lot of publicity. It would’ve gotten even more attention probably than most anything else they could do, because here you have the biggest union in the US taking on this multi-billion-dollar biggest kind of company. And instead, they said, ‘No, we’re going to, number one, take care of our existing members. We’re not going to just launch into something else without showing what we can do,’ and the UPS contract being so big was a vehicle by which to show what they could do, what Teamsters could do in a negotiation with a very, very big, very profitable company. And that’s why this is such a big deal here. It’s a big deal for the workers of course, it’s a big deal for organized labor to score a victory in times that are still pretty challenging.

But you’re right. Now, they have a model contract, an example of something that they can go to Amazon to other distribution operations around the country and say, ‘This is what it could mean to be a Teamster.’ They also have done something else that’s significant, Jon, and that has sort of stabilized the relationship with UPS, right? So UPS now has a multi-year contract with its union. That creates a circumstance where UPS becomes a stronger competitor for Amazon, FedEx, all these other folks. All of these things, I think, point to a circumstance where in the next few years, maybe even starting much sooner than that, but certainly over – it’ll take time. But in the next few years, I think you are going to see a major push to organize those Amazon drivers.

And that’s a very big deal because once you get the drivers, once you get the distribution system organized, as Harry Bridges – the great leader of the Longshoreman’s Union in the 1940s into the 1970s – Harry Bridges used to always say, ‘Once you get those transportation networks organized, then you can march out into the warehouses, into the other sectors of the industry and organize those as well.’ And so we’re at what could be a historic pivot point for unions in America. A strong contract with UPS creates a lot of openings for the Teamsters and for other unions to start moving into areas that have historically been difficult to organize.

JW: Now the members have to ratify the contract. The last contract, in 2018, negotiated by the Hoffa regime was rejected by the membership, but the leaders put the deal into effect anyways. They found a clause in the contract that said, “Rejecting the contract required that two-thirds of the members vote no.” Teamsters for Democratic Union was outraged by that. But how do you think the membership will vote this time?

JN: It’s important to highlight that that story of what happened in the past is something that I think in many ways helped Sean O’Brien to come to leadership. O’Brien knew that he had to negotiate a contract that was going to be popular, that would have appeal to the people that are voting. There’s been a lot of internal organizing going on, so my bet is that this contract will be approved. But look, I’ve even now heard from folks who are looking at aspects of it that they would like to see different, like to see it better. And you’ve got to respect that. In a union that operates as a democracy, as a genuine democracy one would hope, you’re going to have folks who aren’t satisfied. And that’s fine. That pressures leadership to get better. But I think on a baseline level at least in talking, and this is very anecdotal today, but talking to folks who are UPS drivers and are involved, and frankly some of who have been involved for a very long time, they do seem to be pretty happy with what has been achieved.

JW: John Nichols: read him at thenation.com. John, great to talk to you on a day when we have such good news.

JN: Indeed, it’s breaking news. Would that we could talk every time about a major union victory!


[BREAK]


Jon Wiener, host: The Hollywood studios just had a historic weekend at the box office. The Barbie movie made $155 million in three days. That was a record. And Oppenheimer made 80 million total, 235 million for two movies. And the people who made these movies, actors, and the writers, they’ve been on strike. The writers since May, the actors since July 14th. For comment, we turn to Ben Schwartz, he’s an Emmy-nominated writer, a member of the Writer’s Guild of America West. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, The New York Times, and The Nation. We reached him today at home in LA. Ben Schwartz, welcome to the program.

Ben Schwartz, guest: Thank you, Jon. Great to be here. Thank you for having me.

JW: It’s hard to forget that studio head quoted in Deadline about the studios’ endgame for the writers. He said, “The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses.” And another insider called it, “A cruel but necessary evil.” What do you make of that?

BS: I thought it was tough talk, but there’s no guarantee that they can outlast the unions. It is cruel, it is a mean-spirited threat, but I think at the end of the day, it’s empty, too, because they don’t seem to understand how desperate people already are. They don’t understand how difficult it is to make your living as an artist. Many artists are used to working for a long period or going for long periods of time without work. And the whole reason this has come to strike is because many people are already that desperate and seeking work outside the industry. It’s a great example of how out of touch a person like that is with the reality of working in this business.

JW: There are 160,000 actors. There’s only 11,500 writers. Paying the writers more is hardly going to destroy the studios. It almost seems like money isn’t the issue for them. The studios don’t like the idea of unions, of a union claiming the power to negotiate the writers’ pay. The studio heads here have the same attitude the rest of the CEO class has in the United States. They’d like to get rid of unions and a lot of them have succeeded outside of Hollywood.

BS: They have, and one of the executives, and it was a quote in the last couple of weeks, saying that the issue isn’t just the entertainment industry, it’s unions all over the world. A successful strike and a successful union, encourages other people to organize, and encourages more union activism. And the numbers for this particular strike won’t break the studios, but they know what’s next. Many of these companies like Apple and Amazon, they have union issues beyond the entertainment industry. NBC, for example, really does – it’s a smaller business in some ways. And when you deal with these international, multinational global corporations, they’re looking at union organizing all over the world. The multinational nature of some of these companies, it also shows a weakness in the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the AMPTP management. And I think that the AMPTP could fracture before the unions will.

Unlike strikes past, where it was three networks and five movie studios who were essentially a small business with a huge impact in the world, but a small business, they were all on the same page. You had people like Lew Wasserman who were very tough and understood their end of the business, because it was easier to understand than today. And that is a very different business where you have people like Netflix who are basically streamers. You have Disney, which makes movies and television shows and has theme parks around the world. You have many, many concerns. Some have several concerns, others have one. And I think that’s going to fracture their organization before the unions will fracture.

JW: And the other thing that might fracture them is that some are making a ton of money. Netflix, and some stock is way down, Disney and, also Paramount I understand.

BS: Yeah. I thought of Bob Iger’s career in his CNBC interview he talked about how ABC may no longer be core to Disney, and that Disney+ is not making money, everybody knows. But when Bob Iger, a very smart man who’s been in television since the 1970s, if he can’t figure out how to make television work, then there’s some huge issues here that aren’t really about the strike.

JW: Yeah. Bob Iger, it’s been in the news a lot lately. People have never quite gotten over his quote speaking at what’s called “The Billionaires Summer Camp” at Sun Valley a couple of weeks ago. What did he call the union’s position?

BS: “Unrealistic.”

JW: And why do you think he said that? He could have said, ‘I won’t discuss an ongoing labor dispute, but I hope we reach a fair settlement and get back to making the shows America loves,’ or something like that.

BS: Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the Screen Actors Guild negotiator, said that it portrayed a colonial point of view of the corporations to the unions. And I see that there is a condescension there that these folks in these rather lofty positions in the rarefied air of the CEO suites miss out on. They don’t understand the core functionality of actors, writers, and directors. We’re not commodities. We are the people who create these things. And as Fran Drescher pointed out, the Screen Actors Guild president, they foisted this business model on the entire industry, and they didn’t think it through. It’s not the fault of actors, writers, and directors that Disney+ can’t make money. It’s not our job to make that thing make money, it’s our job to make sure it has many entertainment options for people. It’s not the guilds in the unions that should have to pay the price for their failure. Not when he’s also collecting at $20 million plus two-year contract.

JW: 27 million. I believe it’s 27 million a year.

BS: 27 million. He just laid off 7,000 people in the first six months of this year. There’s no way that should be viewed as a success. I am from a small town, a factory town, Kenosha, Wisconsin, and if you’re laying off people, it means your business isn’t doing well. And when he talks about the unrealistic expectations, he’s the one with the unrealistic expectations if he thinks he deserves those paychecks while the rest of us are suffering like this.

JW: Well, of course there’s a few superstar actors who make huge amounts of money, some of them even make more than Bob Iger, but most are unemployed a lot of the time. And that’s why the union asked its highest earning members to donate to the union strike funder. What kind of response have they gotten?

BS: Well, Dwayne Johnson apparently is in the news today, because he apparently made a seven-figure donation. They haven’t disclosed the actual amount to the Screen Actors Guild Strike Fund. And I don’t know about other actors in his position. I know Tom Cruise a week or so ago was talking about being able to promote movies, which actors are not allowed to do during the strike, to promote his movies during the strike. And I really think that Dwayne Johnson really stepped up in the right direction here. Although the Screen Actors Guild responded to Tom Cruise by saying, “Well, how about coming out on the line?” Wherever he goes, there’s going to be cameras. So if he wants to promote his movie, that would be a great way to be out there. But you need that kind of support because I believe the figures, 87% of the Screen Actors Guild cannot afford healthcare. And I am a person who believes that healthcare is a realistic expectation.

JW: I must confess, I wasn’t quite sure who Dwayne Johnson was. I learned he’s the former wrestling champion known as “The Rock” who became the star of the Fast & Furious franchise. His films have grossed more than 10 billion worldwide, making him one of the world’s highest grossing and best paid actors in 2019. Time Magazine named Dwayne Johnson “One of the world’s most influential people.”

BS: Well, yeah, he’s everywhere. Apparently not at your house, because you didn’t know who he was. To a lot of people, he is. And he has been this exceptional star in anything that he’s done. And I think he’s a person who really appreciates that. He gets that because he came up in a very tough business. Wrestling is a very tough way to make a living in the entertainment industry. So that is much appreciated. And I wish writers made that much money where they could donate seven figures to the Guild. But I think he did a great thing.

JW: I want to talk about where we stand in the negotiations. I know the studios have refused to meet with the Writers’ Guild since May. The Actors’ Guild released a chart showing their proposals and the studios’ responses. Let me just read the top two items. First, minimum pay. SAG, the Screen Actors’ Guild, asked for an 11% general wage increase in year one, 4% more in year two, 4% more in year three total 19% not that much compared to what other unions are winning. The Teamsters just got 48% over five years for UPS drivers. The studios’ response to 11%, year one, et cetera, was 5% in year one, 4% in year two, 3% in year three. Pretty bad, but not as bad as their response to number two, new media revenue sharing. The union proposal was, I’m quoting, “Casts are to share in the revenue generated when their performances are exhibited on streaming platforms.” The studio response, one word: “Rejected.” What does that say about where we stand now in the negotiations?

BS: Well, obviously the actors, and writers, and directors need to participate in profits. Although the mismanagement of these streaming platforms is public knowledge. They won’t release the numbers of viewers to a specific show. But we can all see Disney’s losses on Disney+. They are losing money, but the actors still need to be paid per viewer. How the studios and streamers manage their money and their product. It’s like it’s not really our problem. When you have a lot of viewers for a show, the people who made the show should be getting paid.

JW: So how can the present impasse be broken? Barry Diller, former Hollywood studio chief, suggested that ‘Studio executives and top earning actors should take a 25% pay cut to bring a quick end to the strikes and help prevent what he called the collapse of the entire industry.’ I wonder what you think about that.

BS: It’s pretty catastrophic thinking, and I don’t really agree that the whole industry will collapse. I think these streaming platforms are going to need to be reshaped and reformed. But as far as when he is talking about the pay cut that actors should get, yeah actors, they make their big money really gross points and things. And what happens when the movie is really successful? Now, I don’t know if he’s got a list of actors he thinks are overpaid, he is probably being very nice, not to name them, but actors, directors, and writers, when you get paid with residuals, you’re getting paid on the success of these things. That’s how many of us make a living. We shouldn’t have to lose that because they curated a money-losing model.

JW: I think most people don’t realize that entertainment is in many ways just another industry. It’s full of regular people doing regular work. The vast majority of the people who write scripts or act in movies, or on TV are not rich and famous. And if left to their own devices, the companies like all the other industrial companies in the United States, will always try to push labor costs towards zero and executive pay towards infinity. And Hollywood is one of the few remaining private industries where there are active unions. So when a studio exec says he wants to make the writers homeless, he’s explaining why we need unions.

BS: It very much is. And that’s never going to happen. I guess people have tough times, but the studios’ pressuring the unions and holding out, it’s not going to have that effect. He’s only increased the resolve of union members. First of all, he made the quote anonymously. So I think nobody’s going to be afraid of a cowardly guy like that, or a woman–who knows, I don’t know who said it, but whoever said that’s making a threat they don’t want to make publicly, because they know they have more to lose than we do when they say things like that. It’s just a stupid, cruel thing to say, and it’s not going to have the desired effect. When I read it, I thought: ‘it sounds like somebody is losing.’

JW: Ben Schwartz is a member of the Writer’s Guild of America West. You can read him at thenation.com. Thank you, Ben.BS: Thank you, Jon. Thanks for having me.

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