Sesame Workshop writers’ union votes to authorize strike

Print More

Wikimedia Commons

Sesame Workshop writers represented by the Writers Guild of America, East, voted unanimously Tuesday to authorize a strike if the union and management can’t complete negotiations this week on a new collective bargaining agreement.

Sesame Workshop is the New York–based nonprofit that oversees Sesame Street and other educational initiatives focused on children. The guild’s current contract expires Friday. The union announced that picketing would begin April 24 outside of the Workshop’s offices if a deal isn’t reached.

“No one wants to see a picket line on Sesame Street,” WGAE President Lisa Takeuchi Cullen said in a statement. “Millions of parents and families around the world are going to have a lot of questions. They might ask why the bosses at Sesame Workshop are ignoring their company’s own messages of kindness and fairness.”

Contract negotiations with the 35-member bargaining unit began Feb. 13. The writers are seeking new benefits and protections including 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.

“The writers that Sesame Workshop hires are deeply committed to the work that we do,” the WGA Sesame Workshop Negotiating Committee said in a collective statement. “Like the Workshop itself, we are mission-driven and child-focused, and we work hard at telling stories that contribute to the Workshop’s curricula inspired by heart, curiosity, community, kindness, diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

The negotiating committee is “committed to working with Sesame Workshop to codify a fair contract for writers that embodies these values, and which allows the Workshop to continue to attract top-level talent who can artfully create stories that successfully balance entertainment, playfulness, and joy with education and enrichment.”

The committee’s demands for the new contract “would be extremely meaningful for the affected writers, particularly those in animation who are currently being excluded from basic union benefits and protections like pension and healthcare,” the statement continued. “We hope for a speedy and amicable resolution to these negotiations so that we can continue to do the work of helping the next generation grow smarter, stronger and kinder.”

Last month, a spokesperson for Sesame Workshop said in a statement to Current that the organization was engaged in “good faith negotiations with the guild” and were “hopeful” that they’d come to an agreement “well in advance of the April 19 expiration.”

“Our writers are integral members of our creative team, and we are engaged in good faith negotiations with the WGA,” a Workshop spokesperson said in a statement to Current Tuesday. “We’re still hopeful that we’ll come to an agreement in advance of the expiration.”

Michelle Kuchinsky, assistant director of contract enforcement at WGA East, told Current last month that the writers 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.

The employees also seek 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 Workshop programs distributed by streamers.

Writers are also negotiating for protections against the use of artificial intelligence to write scripts. The provision would be similar to protections negotiated by Hollywood union writers in a contract with major studios that was ratified last year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *