How the Hollywood writer’s strike will impact the wider world of work

It took 148 days to change the world of work.

That’s how long Hollywood writers were on strike before reaching a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) that, if adopted, will not only transform Hollywood, but will ripple across workplaces everywhere.
While many aspects of the agreement are unique to TV and film production, the core concerns raised by the Writers Guild of America, East and West, (WGA)—the use of technology, the erosion of job security, and fair compensation—resonate with workers in nearly every industry. 
Particularly writers’ demand for guardrails regarding generative artificial intelligence (GAI). 

Since ChatGPT emerged late last year, speculation has run wild about GAI’s impact on work. Some have held it up as a solution to the drudgery of our jobs; others have tagged it as a great displacer of work, particularly white-collar work. 
Anyone with the word “writer” in their job title had good reason to be nervous. And the guilds were proactive in fighting for the fair use of this emerging tool at the bargaining table. 
More than just ensuring that machines will not write any sequel to Barbie or the next season of The Morning Show, the WGA groundbreaking agreement puts regulations on how studios and writers can use GAI to innovate—without eroding pay or cutting jobs.  

This contract is groundbreaking because it contains hard-fought language to protect the integrity of the writers’ profession during this period of experimentation with GAI. It ensures that even if the studio deploys GAI to produce material, such as a draft screenplay, the writer receives full credit and compensation. And writers may also be permitted to use GAI in their work without any change in compensation. The two sides will meet twice a year to consult about these developments.  
It is a huge union win on generative AI, and it will not be the last. Other workers urgently need the kinds of safeguards negotiated by the WGA.
OpenAI claims that 80% of all workers in the United States will have a small percentage of their tasks affected by ChatGPT, or a similar tool.  McKinsey’s estimates that 75% of the investment in GAI will involve software development, sales, marketing and customer service industries, and these areas do seem to be the early adopters. 
For example, call-center workers are already feeling the impact of artificial intelligence. The first real world study of GAI on a large scale, released earlier this year, analyzed the performance of 5,500 call-center employees and found that when GAI was added to workers’ customer service toolkit, problems were resolved 14% faster. 
However, unlike writers in the highly unionized entertainment industry, call-center workers generally do not have a say about where the benefits from these productivity gains will go. Will AI be used as another way to squeeze more work for less pay? Or will this be a win-win to improve wages and conditions in an industry that is now characterized by exceptionally high worker turnover?
The WGA contract proves that—through collective bargaining—it is possible to both secure good jobs and innovate with GAI, and it is motivating unions around the world. Last week, I was in Germany and heard from leaders there who were inspired by the WGA’s strike—and will be even more so now by their win—and this excitement is spreading. 

The labor movement has a long tradition of regulating the use of new technologies to curb abuses and share the benefits, but this victory feels like a turning point in a new era.  
The WGA members have crafted fantastical worlds, but this hope is not a fantasy. The writers have made it a reality that we believe will shape the future of work for the years to come.
Fast Company and Inc. newsrooms are represented by WGA East.

Christy Hoffman is general secretary of UNI Global Union, which represents unions with 20 million members in 150 countries, including Writers Guild of America, East and West.

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