Sesame Workshop writers union seeks streaming residuals, paid parental leave and protections from AI

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Sesame Workshop writers represented by the Writers Guild of America, East are seeking new benefits and protections as they negotiate their contract with management.

Their current contract with management is set to expire next month at the end of season 55 of Sesame Street. Sesame Workshop, based in New York, is the nonprofit that oversees the flagship program and other initiatives focused on children.

Michelle Kuchinsky, assistant director of contract enforcement at WGA East, is overseeing the negotiations on behalf of Sesame writers. She estimated that approximately “two to three dozen” staffers belong to the union at any given time, with the number fluctuating throughout seasons. “We really hope to have a smooth negotiating process and get to a fair deal in the next couple of weeks,” she said.

One goal for the Sesame writers is establishing union minimums — including pay rates, residuals and credits — for all writing work. This includes “all new media content, animated shows, social impact stories and scripted podcasts,” according to an email from a WGA East spokesperson.

The writers also want Sesame Workshop to create and distribute a paid parental leave fund. The writers’ only access to paid parental leave are state funds they may be entitled to “depending on what state they live in,” she said.

“We believe that paid parental leave fund contributions are justified here. They are the same ones that we won with screenwriters and TV writers in our contract with the Hollywood studios, and we think those should apply to Sesame Workshop writers as well,” Kuchinsky said. “We just need the company to agree and to make the contribution and then to provide job protections for people who opt to take this paid parental leave benefit from the WGA health plan.”

The employees are also seeking fixed residual payments for every year a program remains on a streaming platform, as well as performance bonus residuals for successful seasons or specials of Sesame programs distributed by streamers.

“Not every show qualifies for a performance bonus, but if it is drawing a lot of eyeballs to that streaming platform and Sesame Workshop benefits from that contract, the writers should benefit as well,” Kuchinsky said.

Writers are also seeking protections against the use of artificial intelligence to write scripts, similar to provisions negotiated by Hollywood union writers last year when they ratified their contract with major studios.

In an email, a Sesame Workshop spokesperson said, “We respect and value our writers, and are engaged in good faith negotiations with the guild. We’re equally hopeful that we’ll come to an agreement well in advance of the April 19 expiration.”

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