Are Canadian Productions Now Scabs?

by Paul William Tenny

I've been wondering for a couple of weeks what Stargate Atlantis exec-producer Joe Mallozzi meant when answering a question about whether or not SGA would be affected by the WGA strike - the one that began on Monday morning. He said no, but no can mean a lot of things with ambiguous context. The Sci Fi Channel had yet to order a fifth season of the show when the question was asked, and I haven't been clear on the various producers guild affiliations until now.

Canada has its own writers guild, which on face value actually seems silly and destructive, at least for North America where you can have writers in one country, while shooting it in another. According to a tool provided on the WGA West's website, the main producers are not members of the Writers Guild of America, which means they are not legally obligated to obey the current strike. In fact, it would probably be illegal for them to do so, even if they wanted to, since their WGC contract would be in full force and effect.

That troubles me for a number of reasons.
  • Scab writing
    A "scab" is a person providing writing services for the companies being struck that is not already a member of the union. They are not legally or even morally obligated to obey a strike, even though WGA claims the right to punish them later should they become eligible to join at a later date, even black listing them from ever joining.

    Even if Canadian writers are a member of the WGA's sister guild to the north, are they not scabbing by producing material for stuck companies during the strike? MGM owns Stargate Atlantis as is being struck right now. There is little to no choice for WGC writers but to follow their contract, yet they are hurting the WGA's effort by writing during a strike.

  • Non-transferable gains
    Since the WGC negotiates its own contracts with the producers, they are in the same boat American writers are right now, but have far less bargaining power. Most of the best content coming out of Canada is still for American shows, yet those people probably represent a small percentage of the WGC's membership.

    Additionally, that membership is likely to be far, far smaller than that of the WGA, which is sitting at around 13,000. With American writers fighting so hard for DVD and digital media gains, the chances that the WGC could pull it off are next to none. While these gains would automatically be demanded by SAG and DGA - and probably gotten - I'm not so sure the same kind of pattern bargaining would apply to the WGC.

    With Canadian writers essentially crossing the picket lines and hurting the cause, they may not benefit from it either. That bothers me because they deserve those gains just as much as American writers do, so it's a lose/lose proposition either way.

  • Outsourcing
    A strike that Canadian writers probably can't honor even if they wanted to is an opportunity for the studios and networks to go north to find cheap labor to fill the gaps. I don't know how likely that is, but it seems like a pretty welcoming idea if I were a studio exec.
One unanswered question is about is a writer supposed to do if they hold dual-membership with both writing guilds. I may have to write to Alex Epstein who helpfully answers question like this all the time. Stay tuned.
in Labor, Television


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