After 18 years at the top of the Writers Guild of America West, executive director David Young is departing. And the chief negotiator who led the union in its latest round of negotiations amid a historic strike — Ellen Stutzman — will take his place.
The WGA West board of directors announced the leadership transition to members on Friday. “Our membership owes David a great debt. His organizing experience and strategic acumen were essential to building the Guild into the fighting organization it is today,” the group stated in it message. Young will remain at the union through the remainder of his contract, but Stutzman’s promotion is effective immediately.
Young, who joined the union in 2004 as an organizing director and stepped into the executive director role a year later, led the union through a momentous period, including the 100-day strike in 2007-8 that tackled what was then called “new media” and the guild’s contentious campaign against agency packaging practices. In the process, he brought a new level of boldness to the union, helping to craft its image as the Hollywood labor group that is most likely to strike to achieve its ends. Under Young, the union carved out its first terms for streaming projects, created a paid parental leave benefit and improved contributions to the union’s benefit plans. Young has been credited additionally with establishing the union’s captain system, where volunteer members head up internal communications with groups of their peers, as a fixture during contract negotiations. The system has recently been adopted by other entertainment unions, including the Directors Guild of America and IATSE.
Young said in a statement, “It has been an honor to work with and for writers. I’ve also been lucky to collaborate with the Guild’s staff, which is superb.”
Young has also been a colorful and somewhat divisive figure in town, most recently raising the ire of agents during the union’s multi-year battle over packaging due to alleged conflicts of interest. “Young’s supporters call him a brilliant tactician whose indifference to Hollywood niceties is an asset,” The Music news‘s Rebecca Keegan wrote in a feature on Young in 2019, amid the conflict. “His detractors — including a quietly frustrated but increasingly organized wing of his own guild — say Young is a hothead who relishes creating chaos and can’t close a deal.” Ultimately, the WGA prevailed in that battle, ending the inclusion of agency packaging fees and diminishing the stake that agencies could hold in productions businesses in the union’s franchise agreements with major talent agencies.
In a statement, former WGA West president Patric Verrone stated, “When we hired David Young, his directive was to turn our Guild into a union: a forward-looking, organizing union with an informed, engaged, and activated membership, working for the betterment of writers. Verrone continued, “One of my mantras in WGAW leadership was to ‘Do what David says.’ I believe that every member of our Guild, and nearly every worker in the entertainment industry, has benefited from doing what David says.”
Stutzman, meanwhile, joined the union in 2006 as a researcher and has risen through the ranks since, becoming research & public policy director and, later, assistant executive director. Stutzman stepped up to the plate in a big way in 2023, assuming the role of chief negotiator at the WGA while Young went out on medical leave. She became well-liked among the union rank and file during the subsequent negotiations and strike, which lasted 148 days but yielded a contract that many found satisfactory and forward-thinking amid tumult created by streaming platforms and the rise of artificial intelligence. At a lively union gathering at the Hollywood Palladium in late September, after the WGA struck a tentative agreement with Hollywood studios, Stutzman received the biggest applause of the night, THR reported at the time.
“There’s nothing more important – that determines the outcome of things more – than the right person at the right time. Ellen was that for us. The exact right person at a tenuous moment,” said Chris Keyser, the co-chair of the WGA’s 2023 negotiating committee, in a statment. “The first, maybe most important, decision we all made in the course of our 2023 MBA fight was to trust Ellen.”
Added negotiating committee co-chair David Goodman, “Without missing a beat, she became leader and counselor to a membership of 11,500, and carried us through to victory with skillful and experienced strategic thinking, and a clarity of thought that kept out the noise of insecurity and timidity.”