Home » Walking the picket line in NYC on the National Day of Solidarity to support WGA/SAG-AFTRA strikers

Walking the picket line in NYC on the National Day of Solidarity to support WGA/SAG-AFTRA strikers

Members of AFL-CIO unions joined striking writers and actors on the picket lines Tuesday in New York, Los Angeles, and other cities in a National Day of Solidarity to support the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA. As a retired member of the Communications Workers of America, Local 31222 (News Media Guild), I put on my union cap and the Solidarnosc-Warszawa (Solidarity-Warsaw) T-shirt I’ve kept since my days as a correspondent covering the first strikes by the free trade union movement in Poland in 1981. I then walked the picket line stretching two blocks with several hundred union members outside the corporate offices of Amazon and HBO in the Hudson Yards district of Manhattan. 

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The picket line in New York City on the National Day of Solidarity with striking WGA and SAG-AFTRA members. (Photo by Charles Jay)

The location was quite familiar because it was right outside the office building where I once worked until I was laid off at the end of 2016. My union did not go on strike, but we did do informational picketing outside the building during protracted contract negotiations.

I’ve been a member of the Newspaper Guild since I began my journalism career in the late ‘60s as a copy clerk at the Chicago Sun-Times while in college. For several years I was a member of our union’s executive board. I can identify with the striking members of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA: Over the years, each new contract for our union brought only small wage increases that were eaten up by inflation along with givebacks that included reductions in health insurance benefits and, in the biggest blow, a pension plan freeze.

I didn’t work for a newspaper. And contracts for newspaper staff were far more draconian than ours. Many newspapers were hit hard by the emergence of new websites on the internet like Craigslist that siphoned off the revenue stream from classified ads, while online advertising revenue never lived up to the rosy forecasts.

Both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA are demanding increased residuals for streaming shows, a boost in minimum compensation rates, and bigger contributions by studios for pension and health insurance plans. Both unions also want tighter regulations and safeguards to protect their members from the use of artificial intelligence.

The WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikers were joined by members of unions representing teachers, construction, retail and health care workers, and Broadway actors and technicians, among others.

It was a spirited event with a drum circle, karaoke, and live music by a brass quintet from the New York Philharmonic to entertain the picketers. Speakers had to pause during loud horn blasts from a Theatrical Teamsters semitruck that kept circling the block. 

TV writer and comedian Josh Gondelman, the WGA strike captain, gave a rousing speech to the crowd, thanking members of other unions for turning out to support the WGA and SAG-AFTRA in their struggle for a fair contract. Gondelman said:

 “You are proof that our numbers aren’t dwindling over time, they are growing stronger as workers across the labor movement join with us because we are a part of one fight. Our strikes are not just about writers and actors versus television and movie studios. They are about workers standing up against corporate greed in all the forms it takes.”

As he finished his remarks, people chanted “One day longer, one day stronger.” 


The WGA has been on strike since May 2. SAG-AFTRA began its strike on July 14. On the other side is the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP, a trade association that represents huge entertainment conglomerates such as Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery.

SAG-AFTRA local President Ezra Knight told amNewYork Metro:

“Literally the world is watching, and the worldwide support that we’ve gotten has been nothing less than enthusiasm building, resolve inducing, solidarity and support. It’s always important for me as a leader to convey to my members at SAG-AFTRA that we are part of a larger labor force.” 

Deadline reported that among the actors participating in the New York event were Jesse Eisenberg, Morena Baccarin, Carla Gugino, and F. Murray Abraham.

New York City Comptroller Brad Lander told the picketers that he had sent a  letter on behalf of the trustees of the city’s $250 billion pension funds to the chiefs of Disney, Paramount, and Comcast warning that they risk losing investor confidence if they allow the strikes to drag on much longer, Deadline reported. “It’s not just your workers, it’s not just your customers, it’s your investors who are demanding that you sign a fair contract and that you sign it now,” Lander said.

This is the first time both the actors’ and writers’ unions have been on strike at the same time since 1960—the head of SAG back then was Ronald Reagan. That strike resulted in actors and writers receiving residual payments when feature films were licensed to television. Now residuals are again an issue as studios have come to rely more on streaming services 

Last week, Variety published the results of a new poll by Data for Progress which showed that a large majority of Americans support the striking writers and actors, and nearly half hold an unfavorable view of the studios. Variety wrote:

The poll found 67% support among likely voters for the strikes by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA, while just 18% oppose them. The poll also found that 48% have an unfavorable view of the major studios, and just 31% support the studios. 

In Los Angeles, thousands of people filled the streets outside Disney headquarters in Burbank for the National Day of Solidarity rally where the speakers included Martin Sheen, Kerry Washington, and Ron Perlman.

Sheen was joined by other cast members of the TV White House drama “The West Wing,” which ran from 1999-2006. Sheen’s role as President Josiah Bartlet offered a fantasy escape from George W. Bush’s presidency. Sheen, who declared himself “a proud member” of SAG and AFTRA since 1961, told an Irish religious story to fit the occasion:

“The Irish tell a story of a man who arrives at the gates of heaven and asks to be let in and St Peter says ‘Of course, just show us your scars.’ The man says ‘I have no scars’. St Peter says ‘What a pity, was there nothing worth fighting for.’ Clearly this union has found something worth fighting for and it is very costly. If this were not so, we would be left to question its value. So now we are called to support the union, support the leadership, and to stand together for the long haul and stick to it like a stamp.”

And Sheen concluded with an inspirational message:

“Let us continue to dream things that never were and say ‘Why not?’ There’s so much going on in our country, it is so dangerously divided and very often we come to gatherings like these and we’re inspired because we see the effect of unionism and unity.

And so in my closing remarks I would like to offer a prayer by (Rabindranath) Tagore, the Indian poet laureate:

‘We are called to help lift this nation up to that place where the heart is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls

Where words come out from the depth of truth

And tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sands of dead habit

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, dear Father, let our country awake.’




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August 2023