The Writer's Guild of America (WGA) is a labor organization represented by two main branches, the WGA-East and WGA-West. Collectively, these two branches represent authors in film, television, and other forms of media. The WGA helps writers register their intellectual property, negotiate fair contracts, and receive an assortment of benefits. At several times in the WGA's history, the group has called for labor strikes which have caused the entertainment industry to grind to a halt.
The WGA has its origins in 1921, when it was known as the Screen Writer's Guild. The early Guild was more of a friendly association which hosted parties, awards, and other events for members of the screen writing community. However, in 1933, the young American film industry tried to initiate a major pay cut for scrip writers, and the Guild fought back, becoming an active labor organization which fought for its members, regardless of gender, race, or creed. The early WGA has been heralded by many labor historians as one of the most socially conscious and active labor unions in the United States.
With the development of new media like television, the Guild's focus expanded, and in 1954 it split to create the WGA-East, headquartered in New York City, and the WGA-West, with offices in Hollywood. Both organizations work to protect their members, and almost every writer in the entertainment community is a member of the WGA, from authors who create television scripts to writers in the field of animation.
The WGA helps its members with several aspects of contract negotiation including benefits, film credits, and similar issues. The organization has collectively worked to guarantee basic residuals to authors, which means that every time their material is aired or sold, they earn a small portion of the profits. Residuals are extremely important to authors, since individual payments for scripts are not enough to realistically survive on. Many strikes and contract disputes for WGA members have centered around residuals, including the November, 2007 strike.
The WGA also maintains a registry of intellectual property, helps to create pension funds, and supports authors in a wide range of entertainment fields. This incredibly strong union is also supported by other labor unions including the teamsters and the Screen Actor's Guild.
Many people are surprised to learn that writing in entertainment is not very profitable. According to the WGA, around 45% of its members are unemployed at any given time, and the vast majority of WGA members make fairly unimpressive salaries. A handful of entertainment writers certainly do make large sums of money, but most authors rely heavily on supplemental work and residuals to keep doing the work that they love.