Striking TV and film writers are shipping to Boston to picket Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav’s speech at Boston University’s commencement ceremony on May 21.
Members of the Writers Guild of America West and East will set up their picket line “with the support of Boston University students, New England-based WGA members, as well as other regional unions and community groups,” the unions announced Thursday.
The WGA and other labor unions, as well as Boston University students and alumni, have criticized the university for keeping Zaslav ― an alumnus of the university’s law school ― as commencement speaker amid the strike.
“Right now, 11,500 WGA members across the country are on strike because companies — including Warner Bros. Discovery — refuse to negotiate a fair contract that addresses writers’ reasonable demands around pay, residuals, and the existential threat that AI poses to workers,” the unions said in a statement. “It is shameful that, in the midst of an action to preserve the future of work, Boston University would use a graduation ceremony to honor someone intent on destroying its students’ prospects to build sustainable careers.”
On Friday, a spokesperson for Boston University declined to comment on the writers’ plans to picket the commencement but told HuffPost there was “no change in plans” for the ceremony.
Since May 2, film and TV writers have been on strike over more equitable pay in the streaming era, sustainable working conditions and protections around the use of artificial intelligence. Without improvements in these and other key areas, they fear it could lead to the loss of writing as a livelihood, especially for writers from underrepresented backgrounds. (HuffPost’s unionized staff are also members of the WGAE.)
Among the writers’ chief points of emphasis is the enormous gap between the profits of major media and entertainment companies and the far smaller wages that writers earn for the shows and movies that help generate those profits.
As part of the strike, writers have pointed out how exorbitant CEO salaries are compared to what they are asking for at the bargaining table. In 2021, Zaslav made close to $250 million due to stock options in a contract extension made as the result of the Warner Bros. Discovery merger. Last year, he made $39.3 million. According to the writers, their proposals, which would benefit some 11,500 working writers, would cost a total of about $429 million a year.
Last Friday, Zaslav announced Warner Bros. Discovery made $50 million in streaming profits during the first quarter of 2023.
Asked about the strike during an interview with CNBC that same day, he said the writers’ “love for the business and a love for working” would bring an end the strike.
In addition to directly targeting studio bigwigs, the striking writers have shut down various film and TV productions, with the solidarity of unionized crew members, to turn up the pressure on Hollywood executives to reach a fair deal.