Candidate for Council, Film/TV/Streaming Sector (i)
I’m Ben Rosenblum, an incumbent Councilmember and nonfiction writer for television and film dedicated to transforming our union into a model of true democracy, solidarity, and transparency.
Since 2014 I’ve been helping the WGA East organize our vastly exploited and un-unionized nonfiction genre, which includes programs such as docu-series, documentaries, reality TV, competition series, cooking shows, true crime, among others. I’ve been on the front lines of our union’s fair share of nonfiction organizing victories, including aiding in production company NLRB election wins, speaking at bargaining tables, working in various organizing committees, and picketing outside of networks — but for every step forward under our current nonfiction organizing strategy, we’ve continually found ourselves taking two steps backwards.
After experiencing these cyclical setbacks under the WGA’s decades-long nonfiction organizing efforts, I won a seat on Council in 2021 to fully investigate these issues and bring about necessary change that would not only benefit nonfiction, but would bolster our entire union. As I’ve advocated for these changes in Council over the past two years, however, it has unfortunately become clear that deeply problematic issues stemming from our union’s highly top-down operations, mostly conducted behind closed doors, have established undemocratic practices from leadership that end up hurting us all.
I’m running for Council re-election to help fix these serious issues at a time when we need as much leadership accountability, transparency, and union democracy as possible.
The resurgent strike wave we’re in is of vital importance for all of us workers.
We are living in a pivotal moment in time that can help us understand the unjust structures of power that rule over us daily, and how we can collectively hold it accountable as it dictates our livelihood and well-being. Banding together, making firm demands, and withholding our labor in unison is crucial for our success, and our union is a powerful means of organizing such efforts.
But although the core of our struggle is with our ever-growing corporate overlords, in order for us workers to actually build and sustain power through our union and successfully defend ourselves, our rank and file must first learn about the questionable structures of power that have developed within our own union that are holding us back.
In my two-year term on WGAE Council, I’ve unfortunately experienced firsthand how the leadership of our union is actually undermining our full power and potential that a truly member-driven and democratic Writers Guild of America, East would bring to the table.
As I delve into my experience in WGAE leadership, I must be clear that it’s intended to be a constructive and necessary hard truth to help us overcome these issues at a time when full transparency is lacking, yet very much needed. I wholeheartedly support the ongoing strikes and genuinely hope we win all of our demands. But for us to achieve overall success as a union, we must identify and address any obstacles that subvert our own capability. This includes a willingness to critique and hold WGAE leadership accountable, especially during a strike when our membership is relying on those at the top to fight to the utmost degree on their behalf.
The problems with how our union leadership operates.
I won a Council seat two years ago after a contentious election exposed significant issues happening behind the scenes of the leadership and governance of our union. That election brought hazy public awareness to the vastly unknown inner workings, political power structures, and functionality of how our Guild leadership operates that have unfortunately rarely been seen by our members.
The election pitted two seemingly oppositional slates against each other, the “Solidarity Slate” that I was a part of, and the “Inclusion and Experience Slate.” I joined the Solidarity Slate primarily because of its core message around the importance of solidarity in our union, something of dire concern for my under-organized genre of nonfiction television and film. Regardless of where one stands on the positions of the slates, the most illuminating aspects of the debates are what came after the election — but it all happened behind closed doors.
Immediately after the election, the supposed “existential” debates and discussions were once again concealed from membership. Private deals were seemingly made among small groups of Councilmembers from each slate, and the vital solidaristic principles I adamantly fought for were dismissed and undermined, ironically even by my own slate. Very little information was given to new Councilmembers, let alone the membership, about all that was going on behind the scenes. Questioning and dissent were suppressed and condemned. And it was immediately clear that there was an assumed hierarchy and undemocratic power structure within Council itself pulling the strings that is not expressly given by our WGAE Constitution, nor is it known by the Guild membership at large, especially since our Council meetings are usually completely closed off.
The undemocratic nature of our union begins within Council itself, and it stems from a small group of Councilmembers and unelected Guild staff called the “Executive Committee.” According to the WGAE Constitution, the committee is intended to “facilitate communications between the Council and the Executive Director as well as oversee membership and financial matters.” Instead of this basic administrative and communicative function, the committee has assumed power and authority to draft, impose, and enforce legislation, policy, and resolutions, appoint important committee positions, among other unjust overreaches of power for their own political purposes without oversight and sufficient democratic input from Council itself. The committee has furthermore used this assumed power and authority to influence other Councilmembers and staff to conform to their political positions. And because all of this happens behind closed doors, it’s created a culture of obsequiousness, secrecy, conformity, and an intolerance of dissent that makes any necessary change or even questioning of the status quo seem forbidden. This harmful mentality has unfortunately been used towards membership as well.
Regardless of the reason why leadership acts this way, whether it’s to preserve their own power, pursue their own individual interests, or perhaps compensate for other issues they presided over, my experience in Council has found that the lack of transparency, accountability, and democratic input from membership has allowed for this undemocratic behavior to flourish to our own union’s detriment. During my term on Council, leadership has acted in ways that undermine our Guild’s power and capability, and they have trampled on members’ rights and union democracy. My experience bringing nonfiction organizing critiques and much-needed strategic changes to Council is a prime example of this, but it could be applied to any other political position or idea that even questions the status quo or the authority of the Executive Committee.
Leadership’s treatment of nonfiction shows how detrimental a top-down union can be.
The WGA pursued unionizing nonfiction when it became clear that the AMPTP was using the genre as a loophole to keep nonfiction writers out of MBA coverage, which therefore could undermine the power of the union and any future strikes. The WGA West’s initial organizing strategy seemingly aimed to rightfully close that loophole by progressively organizing nonfiction writers to obtain MBA coverage. However, that strategy erroneously changed after the 2007 strike when the WGA East began organizing nonfiction in a sub-tier category of separate, isolated contracts that provided no MBA coverage whatsoever.
Our current nonfiction organizing strategy has resulted in an atomized and disjointed sub-tier of nonfiction writers devoid of MBA benefits. This disruption completely undermines the potential for true reciprocal solidarity with our fellow television and film writers in the scripted genres. And not only does this kind of tiered organizing and membership hurt nonfiction, it hurts all MBA-covered writers and the union as a whole.
The WGA’s power stems from the MBA that has been strenuously built-up and secured repeatedly for decades, but the existing loopholes have established “scab genres” that undermine the contract’s negotiating power. When a strike occurs like the one we’re in now, the power us workers have to withhold our labor is undermined by these “scab genres” that can still write and produce content, and therefore maintain a strong flow of revenue for the AMPTP.
The fact that nonfiction can act as a “scab genre” is common-knowledge. The multitude of WGA members I have spoken with from both the West and the East, including many in leadership as well as rank and file members, understand the necessity of getting nonfiction writers covered under the MBA to build reciprocal solidarity and to secure power for the union. It’s also clear that with nonfiction writers covered under the MBA, our union would take in substantial dues money that could be used for the benefit of all.
So why is leadership still undermining our own union’s power with the current nonfiction organizing strategy that excludes our writers from MBA coverage?
From my experience in Council, where I’ve thoroughly communicated with Guild leaders and staff, and even created a designated Task Force to investigate it further, I’ve found no clear, legitimate reason for this persistently self-destructive behavior to continue. It appears to stem solely from the obstinate gatekeeping of the Executive Committee, who cling to the status quo and myopically focus on their own individual priorities, while disregarding bigger picture changes that would benefit our members.
What’s baffling is those same union leaders who agree that nonfiction should get MBA coverage, including incumbent Councilmembers running in this election, have blindly followed the Executive Committee’s assumed authority to irrationally do nothing to close these loopholes and try to get MBA coverage for not only nonfiction, but animation, game shows, and comedy/variety. This willful inaction from leadership has even continued after being called out by numerous nonfiction members in the lead-up to the current strike at a time when we need maximum negotiating power to win our essential demands as quickly as possible.
Not to mention, the Executive Committee has willfully suppressed debates, discussions, and opportunities to deliberate on even the mere idea of adding nonfiction writers to the MBA. They’ve gone so far as threatening my union membership, censoring, and removing me, a sitting nonfiction Councilmember, from WGAE communication platforms when trying to discuss these important matters with my fellow nonfiction writers, all likely violating many of our basic LMRDA rights as union members, including freedom of speech, among others. And because all of this activity operates behind closed doors, leadership is rarely held accountable by any oversight or democratic input from the membership at large, and the cycle of our insular, closed-off union politics perpetuates itself to everyone’s detriment.
I’m speaking out about all of this not to give credence to any unjust criticism the AMPTP may churn out during the current MBA negotiations, but so that we can actually hold our leaders accountable when push comes to shove during this crucial strike and all others to come.
What’s become clear from my time in Council is that it’s critically important for our union to be as democratic and transparent as possible to ensure power doesn’t get consolidated and corrupted by the hands of a small group at the top, who oftentimes end up prioritizing their own interests that can become completely removed from the needs and desires of the rank and file and the union at large. Our leadership should be accountable to membership, not the other way around.
To ensure our strikes win as much as possible in the quickest manner, and that the great risks and sacrifices our rank and file make for it are fully justified, we must transform our extremely top-down union into a true democratic member-driven WGAE so that our leadership actually fights on behalf of all film/television/streaming writers in a manner that is as representative, transparent, and powerful as possible.
How I will address our leadership and governance issues.
We Need True Union Democracy, Transparency, and Power for our Rank and File.
I will fight to fix the murky, undemocratic governance and operations of the WGAE, including working in Council to limit the Executive Committee’s overreach, and giving more power and transparency to our rank and file so that leadership can actually be held accountable and act on behalf of all dues-paying members. I will fight to institute consistent membership meetings for our rank and file to voice their ideas and concerns, and have the ability to democratically participate in and observe the functioning and operations of our union.
We Must Eliminate Loopholes That Prevent MBA Coverage for Various Genres.
The AMPTP has gotten away with using loopholes to avoid MBA coverage for certain television and film genres for far too long, and I’ve found in Council that our current leadership has unfortunately been doing nothing to fix this. This inaction by leadership undermines our own power, solidarity, and the security that the MBA provides. In Council I will continue to fight to integrate the writers and writer/producers of our vastly under-organized genres of television and film onto the MBA, including nonfiction, animation, game shows, comedy/variety, and any others that may be in a similar situation. Preventing these loopholes will not only provide uncovered writers with necessary benefits, but it will allow for us to build greater negotiating power so that all MBA-covered writers can win even more during strikes in a much quicker timeframe. It will also provide our union with a substantial increase in dues revenue to help bolster our Guild’s financial stability, increase our strike funds, and support all members with sufficient resources.
The WGAE Must Stop Creating Tiered Access to MBA Benefits for F/T/S Writers.
We must fight to eliminate and prevent tiered access to MBA benefits among those F/T/S writers and writer/producers with similar job classifications so that we can build true solidarity. We must also end the current WGAE practice of organizing writers and writer/producers of underrepresented F/T/S genres like nonfiction television and film under a sub-tier category that restricts access to the MBA’s benefits entirely. This practice is self-sabotage and hurts all WGA members by allowing for certain genres to act as unintentional scabs during a strike, which undermines true solidarity and our own union’s power. In Council I will fight to build true reciprocal solidarity among all of our film and television genres by securing MBA benefits and appropriate parity for all writers and writer/producers in film/television/streaming. This will provide us with the necessary power we’ll need against the ever-growing corporations.
Moving forward in true solidarity.
Although my experience in Council has revealed many issues with leadership, I’m grateful for our union’s willingness to organize nonfiction writers in general, its willingness to strike when others don’t, and hopefully its willingness to make necessary changes when called upon to help F/T/S writers become united on the MBA, and therefore as powerful as we can be.
I’m looking forward to continuing our fight for these much-needed changes as we work together to strengthen the WGA East into the truly transparent, solidaristic, and democratic union we need it to be in order to face the struggles that lie ahead.
You can endorse me, find a list of my current endorsements, and stay updated with my campaign communications here: www.benjamin-rosenblum.com/wgae
You can stay up to date with our current rank and file led nonfiction organizing movement by signing up to our Nonfiction Workers newsletter here: www.nonfictionworkers.com
You can also follow me for updates on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/rosenbean
* (i) denotes incumbent