The Writers Guild of America (WGA) is the labor union for professional writers of audiovisual material. It represents the interests of its members by collectively bargaining with producers and production companies to create a set of policies and minimum requirements that protect the working conditions of its writers. These include, among other things: defining the types of writing work performed, the minimum pay for that work, how writing credit is determined, benefits like pension and health plans, and a host of other little details.
In order for a production company to hire a writer who is a member of the WGA, the project they want to hire the writer for needs to be a signatory to the WGA’s Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA), which is the extensive collective bargaining agreement that outlines every aspect of how writers are to be employed, paid, credited, etc. for their work. There are production companies that do not hire WGA writers and therefore do not make their projects signatory to the Guild, but that’s a whole other topic to be discussed in a future blog post.
To join the Guild, a writer has to acquire a certain number of units working for a Guild-signatory projects over a period of time. Prospective members currently have to earn 24 units over the three years preceding the application. Examples of how those units can be earned are as follows (not a comprehensive list):
- 2 units for each week of employment
- 3 units for the story to a program less than 30 minutes
- 6 units for a feature screenplay polish
- 6 units for “created by” credit on a series
- 12 units for a feature screenplay rewrite
- 24 units for a feature-length screenplay
So a writer could earn enough units to qualify to join the WGA by: (i) selling one feature spec, (ii) completing two rewrite assignments, (iii) getting “created by” credit on a series, and working on the show for nine weeks, (iv) completing four polish assignments, or any of a number of other ways.
To join the WGA, there are a couple of costs involved:
- A one-time initiation fee of $2,500
- Quarterly member dues of $25, plus 1.5% of your gross earnings
In exchange for the initiation fee and dues, though, there are a lot of benefits of joining the WGA. Not only do you get the benefit of their minimums, working conditions, and collective bargaining power, but there are exclusive events and special offers, as well as a host of Guild employees who are available to help you understand your rights, contracts, how to navigate employment situations, etc.
I’m sure I’ll be writing a lot more about the WGA in future blog posts, but I thought it was important to start off with a basic overview of the organization and what it does, for those who might not be familiar with it.