After a hundred days of protest, the Writers Guild of America is returning to work. Does the negotiated agreement constitute a “win” or a “loss” for the labor union, for the television networks, for consumers of art? There is much disagreement and debate. The effects ripple out to tens of thousands of people, and will probably not be understood for months to come.

As of the end of the strike on Feb. 12, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers “estimated that the walkout had cost writers about $285 million in lost wages and had cost workers in other film unions nearly $500 million.” (NY Times) S. Mark Young, professor at USC’s Marshall Scholl of Business, calculated a higher number: “…we’re looking at somewhere around $3.5 billion. I think that it’s still a little bit too early to assess what the actual damage is going to be, but my calculations are based on things like lost productivity, the kinds of income taxes that aren’t going to be collected, sales tax for the everyday-life stuff that people aren’t purchasing.” (Newsweek)

Under the terms of the negotiated Minimum Basic Agreement (click for PDF), companies are required to re-hire the striking writers (unless the writers’ show was canceled or the number of staff was reduced, which is predicted to be a problem for many people). Additionally, the minimum pay for the writers will be increased. Perhaps the most significant feature of the agreement is that it covers digitally distributed content, or “new media”. Although the strike is over, WGA members must vote by Feb. 26 on whether to ratify the agreement.

The end of the strike curiously coincided with Parashah Tetsaveh, which commands the recruitment of artists and the dedication of their work to a sacred purpose. “Speak to everyone who is naturally talented, to whom I have granted a spirit of wisdom, and let them make Aaron’s vestments. These vestments will then be used to consecrate him and make him a priest to Me.” (Ex. 28:3) Thus, the eternal dilemma for artists: should they use their gifts to feed their family, or to infuse the world with light, hope, dignity, and awe? Maybe one day those options won’t be mutually exclusive.