photos by Amy Weisberg The Inglourious Batters softball team.
This has been the season of strikes, beginning with the LAUSD Services Employees International Union, Local 99, joined in solidarity by the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) for three days in the spring, followed by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, Local 11. (The UPS workers closely averted a strike but were ready to strike if necessary.) Then came the Writers Guild of America (WGA) beginning on May 2nd. As of this publication date, the Writers have been on strike for 109 days. The SAG-AFTRA joined the WGA on July 14th, effectively shutting down the entertainment industry and heavily impacting all related workers, including those not on strike such as restaurants in the area, costume businesses, and trades such as building supplies, and some members of IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees). It is a ripple effect affecting all facets of Los Angeles, New York, and other cities where filming usually takes place.
The common demand of all these workers is to be treated as professionals, respected, and paid their worth. The union members want to be able to live in the cities they work, pay reasonable rent and be able to take care of themselves and families. It is especially painful to watch the boasting of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) members and the posting of the studio heads outrageous salaries, pictures of yachts and mansions, as the workers struggle to work in their professions. Entertainment has always seemed to be a profession of the wealthy, and while it is true that there are very successful WGA and SAG-AFTRA members, the majority are workers trying to earn enough to navigate the ups and downs of the industry.
While much has been written about this strike, it is personal to me, not only because many of the parents of my students are in industry related fields (Topanga is a very creative community!), but because my daughter is an associate WGA member and has been picketing for weeks. The first week school was out, on Abbott Elementary day at Warner Brothers, I joined her for a mother-daughter picket. I was enthusiastic, with recent memories of our own UTLA picketing in support of our SEIU Local 99 members (wgacontract2023.org/on-the-line/a-lesson-in-solidarity). UTLA has been very supportive of the WGA/SAG-AFTRA members on strike, joining on various days and locations.
The Writers, actors, and others affected by the strike are staying motivated through the hot, grueling, summer thanks to generous donations of sponsored food trucks, and the extreme generosity of Drew Carey (@drewfromtv) picking up food tabs for WGA members at Bobâ€™s Big Boy in Burbank and Swingers Diner in Los Angeles. Some Writers have also joined together to form a Strike Softball League.
According to Benji Kaufman, he had the idea to start this league lying awake at 1 a.m. in his bed. â€śI had missed a mixer for writers that day and was thinking there has to be another way to insert some fun into the lives of so many people who are hurting and struggling right now. At first, I thought that maybe just a pickup game of softball here or there would be fun. Iâ€™ve found that you can really build a sense of camaraderie around sports. Help people forget the hardships of the strike, by playing a game every so often and having fun with our peers and building some genuine relationships. Little did I know, I would initially get around 80-90 people to sign up to play. This became more than just a pickup game every so often. I had enough people for a full-on league, plus a never-ending list of alternates to suit up in case a team needed an extra player! Something else I really loved about this league is that itâ€™s not just WGA. We have writers, actors, directors, stunts, art department, animators, etc. Itâ€™s a collective league in solidarity helping to keep our spirits high and our will unbroken in this time!â€ť
Benji formed teams initially through a signup process. â€śI created a digital survey just to garner interest and get a list of interested individuals. I placed signup sheets at a few lots and shared the info through screenwriting twitter as well! Once we had enough people, I just randomly put all the six teams together, making sure each team had a balance of men to women. A few individuals sent requests to be on a team with their writing partners or friends, but other than that it was all completely random.â€ť
â€śThe softball league has been such a necessary and fun outlet during the strike. Being able to hang out off the picket lines and for one hour a week care only about playing a game, hitting the ball, cheering for your new teammates â€” itâ€™s been invaluable.â€ť-Danielle Weisberg
If you want to cheer on the teams, all games take place Thursdays at the Studio City Recreation Center (5:30, 6:30 and 7:30 p.m.). There are still a few more weeks left in the season, and then two weeks of playoffs to determine the winning team. They play only 6 innings or for 70 minutes, whichever comes first. â€śWe have some funky rules to help move the pace of the game like all batters start with a 1-1 count, you have to bat boy-girl-boy-girl, no bunting, and no stealing bases!â€ť
The city has offered to keep the league alive for another season in the fall and there are enough people to possibly expand the league to 8 teams. â€śWhether we continue or not after this season is still up in the air. I feel like a lot will be determined by how long the strike continues. In an ideal world, the strike would end today, and we can all go back to work, while playing softball together at the same time!â€ť
As of this writing, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is meeting with the WGA leadership to discuss restarting contract negotiations, which have been paused since May 1st. The 11,500 WGA members will be kept abreast of all progress.
Amy (left) and daughter Danielle Weisberg, a writer on strike.
All of those on strike have a story to share and many are doing so via social media. I asked Benji for his thoughts: â€śThis is my first strike. Iâ€™m a member of SAG and a Pre-WGA writer. I remember driving by the strike in 07-08 when I was a teenager and learning all about what they were fighting for, but my parents never took me to walk the line back then. I can personally say from experience that I have yet to make enough in a year to qualify for health insurance under my union, and I have also received residual checks for $0.00. This strike is necessary. This strike is long overdue. All I can say is the resolve of the writers and actors on strike is unyielding. We know what weâ€™re worth. We know what we deserve. Weâ€™re out there in record numbers in record temperatures. This wonâ€™t end until we get our fair deal.â€ť
The softball league has been such a necessary and fun outlet during the strike. Being able to hang out off the picket lines and for one hour a week care only about playing a game, hitting the ball, cheering for your new teammates â€” itâ€™s been invaluable.
Watching the three big strikes this spring and summer; educators and school support staff, hotel workers, and those in entertainment, the importance of people standing up for their rights and demanding to be heard at this time in history is clear. Meanwhile, softball brings some workers together and allows a break filled with joy and comradery.