The Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), the main union of movie and TV actors in Los Angeles and across the U.S., announced on Tuesday that they have voted to authorize a strike, potentially joining the current Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike that has been ongoing for over a month.
According to SAG-AFTRA, the actors union wants better income, as overall incomes have gone down in recent years due to inflation, and more and more productions are being shot for streaming services resulting in overall less and more spread out work. SAG-AFTRA also wants limitations and regulations on artificial intelligence in productions, as it would take away jobs and result in lowered quality.
With a contract to expire on June 30th, SAG-AFTRA has nearly a month to reach a deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Both sides have stressed that they want to avoid a strike, as the industry is already hurting enough with the ongoing WGA strike.
“The prospect of a strike is not a first option, but a last resort,” SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher said earlier this week.
However, with negotiations expected to begin Wednesday, SAG AFTRA took the unusual step on Monday and called for a strike authorization vote, an action usually done for either leverage during negotiations or when a strike is imminent. With 65,000 of the 160,000 members voting on Monday night, the actors union voted for strike authorization if no deal is reached by June 30th with 97.9% voting in favor.
“This strike authorization means we enter our negotiations from a position of strength, so that we can deliver the deal our members want and deserve,” noted SAG-AFTRA in a press release. “Without transformative change in the TV/Theatrical contracts, it will soon be unsustainable to pursue a career working under these conditions.”
The AMPTP added in a statement that “We are approaching these negotiations with the goal of achieving a new agreement that is beneficial to SAG-AFTRA members and the industry overall.”
Another Hollywood strike potentially on the horizon
However, the strike authorization has led many to believe that many SAG-AFTRA members may want to join the WGA on the picket lines and form a dual threat to resolve both contracts in their favor as quickly as possible. The strikes are costing studios money and could lead to major TV and film delays should the work stoppage continue on through the summer.
The WGA in particular has many of the same demands as SAG-AFTRA, and has been on strike over them since May 2. Currently, the WGA and AMPTP are negotiating over streaming being factored in to payment plans for writers as residual fees for writers, wanting a minimum number of writers on writing staff to ensure continued employment as well as regulation on the use of artificial intelligence.
“A lot of actors have already been picketing in the WGA strike, or at least have expressed support,” explained Theresa Stevenson, an arbitrator in Michigan who has helped settled union disputes and strikes in the past, to the Globe on Tuesday. “That, as well as voting to authorize a strike before negotiations begin, should be a clear hint that many want to join writers.”
“And media is a different animal. In industrial strikes, most just last a few days nowadays before it is all resolved. Teacher’s strikes generally last maybe a few weeks, few months tops. Other industries, you know, it varies, but it can usually be counted on in weeks. Big hint on ho w bad it can be is if strikebreakers are hired beforehand.”
“But WGA and SAG and all the other ones associated with movie and TV productions. They have a long history of being in it for the long haul. This time around, the studios have dug themselves in more, especially with relative newcomers like Netflix and Amazon having a history of not liking to negotiate. So SAG-AFTRA would come is as a big piece of backup and only further halt filming.”
“Neither side wants to ‘lose’ per say. But for SAG-AFTRA to do all this now, it shows how the WGA may not be doing as well as everyone thinks right now.”
Should SAG-AFTRA authorize a strike next month, it would be the first time since 2000, and the first major actors strike since 1980, when revenue from home videos became a major issue. The contract deadline for the union and the AMPTP is June 30th.
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