My father was a union guy (he’s still alive; he’s no longer in a union). I walked New York City picket lines with him back in the eighties. I had no idea what the protests were about. He worked for the phone company. To be honest, I still don’t know the specifics. I imagine the protests were likely about what labor protests are always about: the folks on top making all the money while the workers towards the bottom of the corporate chain (the ones without whom the business wouldn’t exist, the ones who these days get tagged as “essential workers”) put their bodies on the line for low pay and little recognition.
I’m not going to compare what I do for a living to what my father did back then. (Now he sells real estate, for whatever that’s worth.) My dad climbed telephone poles and made long-distance communication possible in previously unimaginable ways; I sit in (usually) comfortable chairs and make stuff up. Still, I identify with the working-class ethos I learned in those days: showing up for yourself and for your co-workers, fighting for your rights, and (largely) enjoying the process. The picket lines were fun, and if I remember correctly, effective.
Decades later, I became a playwright. Sadly, I couldn’t join our union because we are independent contractors, and as such, our union doesn’t exist. There’s no collective bargaining in our line of work, no official unified front, no picket lines. (Side note: when I started dabbling in television and got to join the Writers Guild of America, East—my first official union!—I texted my dad. We shared a moment. It was cool.)
So as playwrights (and composers, lyricists, librettists), we don’t have a union, but we have a Guild, and that’s a good thing. Because look, there’s more to this. I’ve edited it down a million times because I’m a writer and that’s what we do, but, bottom line: if you’re a Guild member and you’re robbed of credit, or have your words unfairly changed, or have your show shut down for unfair and untoward reasons, the Guild has your back. Folks like Lynn Nottage and Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Schwartz and David Henry Hwang have your back. That’s a big deal. In my opinion, that’s the way it should be.
I think my father would agree. And I think that’s why I joined the Guild.