Nancy De Los Santos reflects on what it was like to be elected the WGAW's first Latino/a board member and serving during the 2007-'08 strike.
2/20/2024 • Louise Farr
Black writers reflect on the direction of Black art.
The moment I stepped onto Hollywood Boulevard, joining hundreds of sign-carrying WGA writers, I experienced camaraderie intersecting power, and realized that the united strength of WGA writers could not be ignored. We were gathering to hear Guild leadership speak during the 2007 Writers Strike. I marched as a WGA writer and a board member. Becoming a WGA member had been a goal; serving on the board never entered my mind. And yet, there I was—loud and proud.
I had joined the WGA as an associate member. I didn’t understand the inner workings of the Guild or the function of the board. Like most writers, I was busy writing, pitching, and looking for work. Like some writers, I attended Guild panels, screenings, and the holiday party, as well as Latinx Writers Committee and Women’s Writers Committee meetings. But, with the exception of the then-named Employment Access Department staff, I had little direct contact with the Guild or its representatives.
Having been born into a union family—my father was a member of the Automobile Mechanics’ Local No. 701, part of AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations)—I believed in unions and had the desire to understand how WGA policy decisions were made. What exactly did the board do? How did board decisions affect my career?
But I didn’t feel there was an open door for me to ask these questions. I didn’t feel...included. I knew writers of color needed the services of the Guild to work in this business, and I believed that in order to remain relevant, the Guild needed writers of color. I wanted writers like me to add their voices and serve in Guild leadership roles, including as committee members, chairs, and as board members. The mystery was how to get that thought into the conversation and turn it into a reality.
Then board member Patric Verrone and Nominating Committee member Joan Meyerson presented the opportunity. The three of us met and spoke about the need for more representation of writers of color in all aspects of the Guild, especially the board. There had been few Black writers and women writers who served as board members, but up until that time, 2006, not one Latino writer had been on the board. That was a shock. It was also the impetus for me to accept their suggestion that I run for a board seat. I was nominated and ran.
Subsequently, when I was voted in, I became the first Latino/a in the history of the Guild to serve on the board of directors.
Usually high-profile writers are voted onto the board. I campaigned as a rank-and-file member vowing to increase communication between the board and its members, especially writers of color and women writers. As a board member, I made a concerted effort to attend Inclusion and Equity Committee meetings. It was surprising to hear, too often, that I was the first board member to attend some of these committee meetings. Meeting other writers and listening to their concerns, and taking those concerns back to the fourth floor, became my mission.
This was a remarkable time for our Guild—and that is an understatement. That year, the board’s sole mission was to guide negotiations for a new contract with the AMPTP for a much-needed increase in writers’ compensation. My desire to learn and understand the inner workings of the Guild was met with a baptism by fire in the fourth-floor boardroom.
Get 19 writers in the room and you’ll get 19 different opinions, but with the AMPTP contract up for negotiation, the unifying thread among all board members was the need for writers to have a bigger share in the humongous profits enjoyed by the networks and studios. That, and to get a foothold onto the then new, but growing, scope of work being written for the internet. Remember webisodes?
Being in the boardroom during this time was to bear witness to the discussion of our livelihood, through both a creative and business lens, by some of our business’ scholars and sage thinkers. That was a room of heavy hitters that included Joan and Patric, along with John Bowman, Dan Wilcox, Robin Schiff, David Weiss, and David Goodman. As in every contract situation, there were many roads that led to what would be the best for the most. Discourse was alive and well, but a vote around the table would result in a commitment supported by all.
When the strike was called by our members, my efforts doubled to have all writers well-informed and to actively engage in the strike activities. On picket lines at CBS, Paramount, and Sony, I was encouraged to see numerous writers of color, LGBTQ writers, physically challenged writers, and women writers, all picketing together. Pencils came down and we stayed strong together.
With a new contract, and my two-year term ending, I declined to run for a second term. Honestly, a board position during the strike was a full-time gig. Instead, I cajoled (read “encouraged”) other writers of color and women to run for a board seat, and a number of them took the challenge.
Any service to our Guild takes time and commitment, but the reward is greater than the give. Being an engaged member of the Guild offers the opportunity to help shape your future and that of your colleagues. All writers—writers of color, women writers, writers with disabilities—have the opportunity to contribute to the decision-making process. But to truly be represented, we must show up and stand up. If you want to be included, you have to include yourself. The Spanish saying comes to mind: “Vale la pena.” It’s worth the effort.
Nancy De Los Santos is a television writer (East Los High, Resurrection Blvd., American Family) who served as a member of the WGAW’s Board of Directors from 2006-'08. Her additional TV writing credits include the telefilms One Hot Summer and Gotta Kick It Up!, several Alma Awards telecasts, and the HBO/Cinemax documentary The Bronze Screen: 100 Years of the Latino Image in Hollywood Cinema.
(This article originally appeared in the October 16, 2020 issue of the WGAW Connect newsletter)