As film’s continue to break box office records year after year, it is more important now than ever for writers to be protected. Protection over their work, money, and even their health and wellness. With major studios raking in billions of dollars annually, the WGA has ensured that writers throughout the country claim their fair share. So what is WGA and why does it matter? In this article we’ll clarify the history of the Writers Guild of America and the pros and cons of joining.
What is WGA
What does WGA mean?
The WGA can seem like an Illuminati-like enigma to non-members in the industry. But if you're planning on writing in any capacity for media outlets like TV, movies, internet, etc., you need to understand what comes with WGA membership. Before diving into the benefits and downsides, let’s demystify the entity that represents tens of thousands of writers.
What is WGA?
The WGA stands for the Writer’s Guild of America. As stated on their website: “We are the Writers Guild of America (WGA), a labor union composed of the thousands of writers who write the content for television shows, movies, news programs, documentaries, animation, and Internet and mobile phones (new media) that keep audiences constantly entertained and informed.”
The Writer’s Guild of America is present on both coasts — WGA West and WGA East.
WGA Membership Benefits:
- WGA Minimums for salary
- Credit protection
- WGA Residuals
- Healthcare for employment
- Pension for employment
What is WGA
A history of the WGA
The genesis of the Writer’s Guild of America can be traced back to a group of ten angry screenwriters in 1921. When major film studios announced wage deductions for writers, these writers formed The Screen Writers Guild (SWG).
Here's a fascinating look into Hollywood history and how the evolution of the industry included proper credit and recognition for its writers.
The SWG soon affiliated with the Authors Guild in 1933, growing the guild substantially. Around 20 years later in 1954, the SWG along with five other groups merged to create the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAe) and West (WGAw). The WGA would collectively represent professional writers throughout America ever since.
What is WGA
Pros of joining the WGA
There are many benefits to joining the Writer’s Guild of America. All of which are designed to protect the writer. Let’s dig into the five main benefits of a WGA membership.
1. Minimum Salary — WGA Minimums
As a member of the WGA, you will have a minimum salary requirement for any work you do. These are otherwise known as WGA minimums and they protect you from being underpaid.
2. Credit Protection
The unique aspect of this benefit is that you do not need to be a member of the WGA to register your work for credit protection. The Writers Guild of America has resources that help obtain proper creative credit as well as fight incorrect writing credit.
Obtaining WGA residuals for your work is one of the most financially sustainable benefits of the WGA. It allows writers to receive financial compensation if their work is further distributed. Without a WGA membership, a writer’s work could be redistributed internationally and would get no compensation for it.
4. Healthcare for Employment
One of the biggest hurdles when working as a freelance or studio writer is having access to healthcare. Membership of the Writers Guild of America gives writers access to different WGA healthcare plans based on the writer’s eligibility. It is worth noting that the health fund is a separate entity of the WGA. It is operated by professionals, but overseen by trustees and the guild.
5. Pension for Employment
The pension of the Writers Guild of America is a defined benefit plan. This means that upon retirement, writers receive a guaranteed monthly payment for the rest of their life. To further understand how this works, check out this video put out by the guild.
Beyond this list, the WGA also provides writers with extensive resources. Seminars, networks, and courses are among the benefits of a WGA membership that allow writers to grow. While there are great benefits to joining the Writer’s Guild of America, there are a few downsides worth noting.
What is WGA
Cons of joining the WGA
In addition to the benefits of a WGA membership, there are also some rules that members need to follow. Like any other industrial union, the rules are meant to keep the integrity of the institution and to maintain its authority. That being said, sometimes writers can feel a bit restricted so it's important to understand these aspects up front.
1. Paying WGA dues
The first downside of joining the guild is less of a con and more of a necessary evil. As a member, you will have to pay annual WGA dues to retain membership. The dues differ from writer to writer but are always 1.5 percent of applicable earnings, plus $25.
2. Membership can jeopardize employment
As a member, writers often make it a condition that the company that hires them become a signatory of the Writers Guild of America. This can threaten short-term job opportunities if companies offering you a job are not a signatory of the WGA. Some companies may not be willing to sign the Guild's collective bargaining agreement preventing you from closing a deal.
3. Eligibility rules are tricky
The eligibility rules for becoming a WGA member are difficult to understand. The guild works on a unit system. A writer must acquire a minimum of 24 units within three years to be eligible for membership. Acquiring units is based on the writer’s employment and/or sales. To learn more about the WGA unit system visit the WGA website.
How Much Do Screenwriters Make?
One of the most elusive questions in Hollywood is “How much do screenwriters make?” If you’re thinking about starting your career as a screenwriter, but hesitant because of money, be sure to check out our next article to learn all about screenwriter salaries.