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The Writers’ Guild of America, East (WGAE) has been honoured with UNI Global Union’s Breaking Through Award for overcoming the challenges of organizing during the pandemic, increasing its membership and expanding into new sectors.

The WGAE used an array of digital tools to recruit hundreds of new members who were working remotely during lockdown. This builds on organizing victories that have increased their membership by more than 60 per cent in the last six years.

To continue to grow their density, they targeted shops in various WGAE sectors, including comedy and variety, broadcast and cable news, and digital news. They won recognition at every shop where they demanded it.

WGAE Executive Director, Lowell Peterson, said:

“On behalf of the Writers Guild of America, East, I thank UNI Global Union for this great honour. The solidarity and concrete support of UNI have been essential to the WGAE over the years. 

“We at the WGAE are committed to building power for our current members and for professional storytellers in what used to be non-union sectors, and we have grown tremendously in recent years.  Our growth continued, and perhaps accelerated, during the pandemic.

“What we found is that working people, including creative professionals, are eager to take collective action to build their own power. With thoughtful strategy and careful execution, the labour movement can continue to grow even as the global economy transforms and sectors like entertainment, news, and digital technology come to predominate.”

Since March 2020, the WGAE has won recognition MSNBC’s cable news operations, at non-fiction production company Jigsaw Productions, and at digital operations Hearst, Bustle Media Group and several smaller digital shops including FT Specialist and Chalkbeat.

At the same time, the union successfully negotiated collective bargaining agreements covering hundreds of members without in-person sessions. As with the new-organizing campaigns, WGAE representatives used video platforms such as Zoom to conduct the meetings, and used email, various forms of text messaging, and work-sharing platforms such as Slack to mobilize members.

UNI General Secretary, Christy Hoffman, said:

“We congratulate the WGAE on rewriting the rules of organizing and, despite all the drawbacks of the pandemic, actually increasing the pace of union growth. By adapting quickly and using digital tools to reach new members in new sectors, the WGAE have shown that remote work doesn’t have to be a barrier to organizing. Their success is a model for us all.”

UNI’s Breaking Through Awards recognize unions that have built union strength through innovative organizing campaigns in the face of adversity.