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The WGA (Writers Guild of America) is the labor union for working writers in film and television. There are two branches of that union, the Writers Guild of America West and the Writers Guild of America East. As you can imagine, the West represents writers on the West Coast, and the East represents writers on the East Coast.

But what does the WGA do for writers, and why do we want to be a part of a union? The answer: a lot.

For example, here are some of the benefits/protections writers get for being in the WGA:

  • Minimums
  • Residuals
  • Health & Pension

Each of those is incredibly important and, on its own, a big deal. Let’s take a closer look at each of those:

Writer’s Minimums

Writer’s minimums are guaranteed wages for specific work writers do. These rates are the minimum a company can pay for any given task and are enforced for members of the WGA. Minimums are essential because if studios could pay less, they would. These rates have been won and defended for years because of the WGA’s work to protect writers.

The rate will change based on the year, the type of content or step, and where it is being exhibited. Click here to see the current WGA schedule of minimums.

Residuals

Like minimums, residuals are another payment the WGA and its members have defended and earned through negotiations and strikes. When a project is resold or distributed on a plane or re-run, the writer gets a percentage of the money the studios generate.

The WGA has put together a Residuals Survival Guide that breaks down this process, how the money is generated, and what those rates are, so if you want to know more, check it out.

Health & Pension

When a writer works, part of their contract requires the studio to invest a percentage of their pay into their Health & Pension funds. This provides WGA members a retirement account when they stop working and helps fund the incredible Health Insurance that the WGA provides their writers. Check out this helpful article about the WGA Health & Pension Plans to learn more.

How do Writers get into the WGA?

So, all of us want to join the WGA. That’s a proud moment we should all be looking forward to: how do we do that?

Well, the first step is to be a good writer people want to give you work and pay you well to do it. If you’re looking for help, I can’t recommend Michael’s Online Screenwriting Course enough. It’s been a game changer for hundreds of others just like you and me.

After you’ve got the chops and someone has hired you to write, you have to earn points or “units.” At the time of this writing, you need 24 units to be eligible to join. Luckily, the WGA clarifies those units and how to earn them here.

Note: For it to count, that work must be performed for a WGA Signatory. That means they’ve agreed to abide by the minimum bargaining agreement and signed a contract with the WGA.

After you have accrued enough units to join the WGA, you must pay a $2,500 initiation fee. Lucky for you, they will take that out of your check. See, they’re already making life easier for you!

The WGA Is Important

It’s important to recognize that the WGA and our collective bargaining is the thing that helps writers earn a living wage and continue to profit from a vital part of the film/tv production process.

If you’re looking to become a professional TV or Feature Writer, you should aspire to join the WGA and take advantage of the numerous benefits previous members have fought to give you. And when you enter, make sure you express appreciation to all those who came before you and made it possible for you to have those same great benefits.

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Michael Jamin, Showrunner, TV Writer, Author

Phil Hudson

Phil Hudson is the Co-Host of Screenwriters Need To Hear This with Micahel Jamin. He's worked on TV & Film projects like Rhett and Link's Buddy System, Quasi, and Tacoma FD, where he is an Associate Producer. Phil has a Bachelor's of Fine Arts in Film - Story Development from Santa Fe University of Art & Design, where he was a Robert Redford Scholar.

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