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To Be A Writers' Assistant You Have to Join This Union

When I got my first writers' assistant job, the assistant landscape in Hollywood was the Wild West.

There was nobody looking out for you, and because of that, you usually had to settle for minimum wage, or maybe a dollar or two above that if you had moved slightly past the PA drudgery.

In fact, after taxes, at most jobs as a writers' assistant, I was making as much or less than I would have made if I were on unemployment.

Not a good system!

But all within a few years, the California minimum wage shot up and writers' assistants and script coordinators became part of a union.

Writers' Assistants and Script Coordinators Join IATSE Local 871

In 2018, after a long-fought battle with the AMPTP, the labor group that represents the studios and producers, the writers' assistants and script coordinators joined the union.

And for those just making their way in assistant-dom, that means that you MUST join this union if you take a WA or SC job.

The benefits, however, far outweigh the negatives of being part of this union.

The Downside of Joining the Union

The only real downsides are the fees. There is a rather large initiation fee of $1,960, which compared to other unions in the industry is nothing. But it is a lot for a struggling assistant.

There is also a quarterly dues fee of $163.63. But, as I'll explain in the next section, this dues payment goes a long way...

The Upsides of Joining the Union

Let's start with the pay. When I started out, writers' assistants made minimum wage, or maybe a dollar above minimum wage. But as of last year, IATSE helped them negotiate an enormous raise to $26/hour!

For anybody toiling in writers' assistant or script coordinator roles for many years just eeking by, this was a HUGE win.

I also mentioned the dues payments. Let's talk about what those fees pay for. And we'll start with the insurance.

IATSE offers very good insurance called MPI (Motion Picture Insurance). When I was on an MPI plan, I basically had zero co-pays and had everything covered. So, if you consider your $163 every 3 months as just covering your insurance, (which it doesn't, it covers way more), you're already coming out ahead.

With IATSE, you also have somebody to go to if your rights are being violated at work.

This is Hollywood. This is going to happen. And having a union who knows what they're talking about behind you can make an enormous difference.

What about other assistant jobs?

Unfortunately, showrunner's assistants and production assistants are still without a union. There is a movement now to unionize, but it will likely be many years in the making.


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I'm Anton, a TV writer and author of Breaking Into TV Writing, a book about the business of TV writing and how to get your foot in the door.


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