Hollywood screenwriters are on the verge of another strike, with health care benefits emerging as a major sticking point in contract negotiations – and in a somewhat ironic twist, the writers’ own efforts to promote the passage of Obamacare in 2009 may have contributed to the precarious predicament in which they find themselves today.
The Writers Guild of America (WGA) – a collection of two labor unions that represent film, television, radio, and new media writers – were set to resume negotiations with television and film production studios on Monday over their new contract, which is scheduled to expire May 1st. However, late Monday, both sides announced that negotiations have been placed on hold until Tuesday, April 25, which leaves just four business days in which to hammer out a deal.
An apparent breakdown in negotiations so close to the contract expiration date has Hollywood studios reportedly bracing for the possibility of an imminent strike.
One major sticking point in the negotiations is the unions’ ailing health care plans, which reportedly face insolvency in three years due in large part to the astronomical rise in costs imposed throughout the health care industry by Obamacare. But in a plot twist usually reserved for their best dramas, it was actually top-tier Hollywood screenwriters that helped create the environment for the controversial bill’s passage.
In 2009, Breitbart News was first to report on an unprecedented effort by the Obama administration to encourage Hollywood writers to insert storylines into TV shows that promoted the President’s agenda, including his proposed healthcare legislation. Publicly launched by then-First Lady Michelle Obama and aided by CNN, the Los Angeles Times, and others, the Hollywood project was initially cloaked as an effort to promote volunteerism – with the overall message being one of selflessness and giving back. The massive initiative was aimed at the TV “showrunners” – or head writers – of sixty television programs, and eventually reached some of America’s most watched series, including Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds, CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, Hannah Montana, Extreme Makeover Home Edition, Parks and Recreation, Private Practice, ‘til Death, Desperate Housewives, and 30 Rock, to name a few.
Breitbart News saw through the positioning, ultimately labeling the primetime takeover a “Trojan horse” to push the President’s healthcare legislation – which later came to be known as Obamacare. Our reporting pointed to TV episodes that were, at times, not even remotely subtle.
“People can’t go around without health insurance, this is America,” cried Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ character Christine in the then-popular TV series The New Adventures of Old Christine.
“And forty-five million people don’t have health insurance,” replied her best friend, played by Wanda Sykes.
“What?! Man, I miss reading the paper for two days…why isn’t anyone talking about this?!”
Now facing a cut in their own benefits, it appears Hollywood screenwriters’ chickens are coming home to roost.
Studios will be seeking a reduction in health benefits, and many screenwriters — ironically, given the storylines pushed through their TV shows — may lose their health benefits altogether if they do not meet minimum earnings markers that trigger access to the Guild’s health plans. Some of the blame for storylines advocating for the health care legislation may also fall on the studios – but a full assessment should be included as part of the negotiating process. If the studios take on the full burden, that cost will eventually be passed onto the American public through higher product prices resulting from increased commercial advertising costs.
This week, the Writers Guild of America Negotiating Committee recommended that its screenwriters vote to authorize a strike to increase their leverage with the film studios if their demands are not met. If the two parties don’t reach an agreement, or fail to extend the contract to continue talks, the guilds will initiate a strike presumably starting May 2.
It would mark Hollywood’s first strike with health care benefits as a major negotiating point, a fascinating turn of events given that many of the most vocal Hollywood liberals mercilessly mocked President Trump for failing to reach an agreement to fix Obamacare just last month. With next week’s negotiations, Hollywood may be, unfortunately, giving us another reason to break out the popcorn.