Chicago unions support the WGA strike

Hundreds of union members picketed with WGA members in front of NBC Tower in a show of solidarity.

Chicago unions support the WGA strike

Hundreds of union members picketed with WGA members in front of NBC Tower in a show of solidarity.

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Electricians and laborers joined actors supporting local members of the Writers Guild of America as they picketed outside NBC Tower in downtown Chicago on Wednesday in support of a strike.

Chanting “Get up, get down, Chicago is a union town,” hundreds of workers showed support for WGA TV and film writers in their third week of strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The dispute is primarily over better pay and royalties from streaming media and job protections against artificial intelligence.

While most TV and film writers are based on either the West or East coast, Chicago is home to more than 100 Writers Guild members, many of whom moved here due to costs of living elsewhere.

Stacy Davis Gates
Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates speaks a press conference during the Writers Guild of America picketing in front of NBC Studios in downtown Chicago on Wednesday. Esther Yoon-Ji Kang / WBEZ

“Part of this has been driven by the refusal of the studios to pay us a living wage so writers have been pushed out of higher-cost areas,” said Martín Zimmerman, a writer for Ozark and Narcos and one the strike captains in Chicago. “As we were getting organized for this, we were discovering just how many people there are here.”

The Matrix creator Lilly Wachowski, who is part of the WGA, lent her support to strike by picketing for six hours on Monday at 3 a.m. at Cinespace Studios on Chicago’s West Side, to help shut down production of the Showtime drama The Chi.

Wachowski said the labor movement in Chicago has “a profound meaning for me. You see it everywhere you look … in the election of [Mayor and former union organizer] Brandon Johnson, the support of the [Chicago Teachers Union].”

WGA writers said they were moved by the support from the city’s various unions — from the Teamsters to the Laborers’ International Union of North America to SAG-AFTRA. At Wednesday’s rally, they were joined by Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter, CTU President Stacy Davis Gates and Alds. Michael Rodríguez and Andre Vasquez.

Ali Barthwell
‘Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’ writer Ali Barthwell pickets along with fellow members of the Writers Guild of America outside NBC Studios on Wednesday. ‘Chicago is a union town, it’s a town of class solidarity,’ she said. Esther Yoon-Ji Kang / WBEZ

“Chicago is a union town, it’s a town of class solidarity,” said Ali Barthwell, a writer for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver who is on a break from the show as she recovers from leukemia. “When I see all the other unions out here, it feels right and it should be this big party where everyone is fighting for what they believe in because I think that’s what Chicago really stands for.”

Ed Maher, a spokesman for the International Union of Operating Engineers, said with AI and automation threatening to replace workers in various trades, the WGA’s fight is a crucial one not just for writers, but for all workers.

“This is a serious fight, and a fight that they have to win, so we’re out here to just give them support,” Maher said.

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.