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Labor leaders outside Hollywood check in on WGA strike

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No labor strike gets wall-to-wall media coverage like a show-biz strike.

Since the start of the WGA strike on Monday, there's been a smattering of reports on David Young and Mona Mangan, the respective West Coast and East Coast heads of the Writers Guild of America, weighing in on what exactly is at stake here: residuals and whether television episodes aired online are promotional or not.

But we have been up to our ears in news items about celebrities sending food to the picket lines. From Jay Leno and his dollars-to-doughnuts Krispy Kremes to Patricia Arquette and her pastries, plus Eva Longoria with her pizza and Jimmy Kimmel with his burritos on Tuesday.

With support from household names such as Alec Baldwin and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, you could argue that the WGA strike has absolutely nothing in common with other labor union strikes.

And because it's been 20 long years since the WGA last marched outside the studios, we thought it would be interesting to hear from non-Hollywood labor leaders about their recent tours of duty on picket lines.

Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Assn., who has seen her union through several successful strikes in the past few years, detailed the key to winning a strike. First, have the public on your side; second, there must be cohesion among members; third, gain political power; and fourth, have a righteous cause.

DeMoro is convinced that the writers have all these things going for them plus bonuses that other non-entertainment writing unions could only dream about.

"They have the power of the word," she said. "They can write and publish and they have enormous clout. And they have celebrity on their side."

Max Hechter, president of the Los Angeles University Professional and Technical Employees Union, said that the first thing a union needs for an effective picket line is for the entire membership to be on board with the aims and intentions of the strike.

And from where he's sitting, it looks like the WGA has that wrapped up. "They seem pretty unified if they are able to shut down every live show that depends on writers on a daily basis," he said.

Janet Bass, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers, said that like the writers, the teachers only strike as a very last resort.

But if a labor group has explored every possible avenue to finding a solution and is still unable to negotiate an agreement on issues that are absolutely essential, then "you have to stand tough and strong on your issues."

"Nobody wants to go on strike," Bass said. "They know it's an inconvenience to the people they serve, so they will only go on strike when the benefits will outweigh the inconveniences."

As for all the food that the WGA strikers have been receiving, DeMoro said the only thing unusual about that is the big names doing the delivering.

"When we have picket lines, people bring so much food that we end up donating it to a food bank," she said.

But as anyone who has ever worked on a series knows, food is an essential perk for writers crammed in dark rooms for days on end.

At least now the writers can eat outdoors, on camera and with the stars shining.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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