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SAG-AFTRA, Studios Come Closer To Deal Following Weekend Negotiations

Union experts said next week is crunch time for both sides, as a work stoppage until 2024 is becoming increasingly likely

By Evan Symon, October 30, 2023 8:22 pm

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television (SAG-AFTRA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) both announced on Monday that, while no deal to end the current actors strike has been reached, both sides are now closer following marathon negotiation sessions during the weekend.

The SAG-AFTRA strike, which started on July 14th and has currently lasted 108 days, has been at a standstill with the AMPTP for months. Negotiations over better residual fees for streaming service programs, overall better pay, and strict regulation on the use of artificial intelligence have been slow to progress, mirroring the first several months of the largely concurrent WGA strike.

A new agreement with the Writers Guild of America (WGA) last month, which ended the 146-day long WGA strike, had brought new hope for a quick end to the actors strike, with many experts saying that it could only take a week or so to settle. Talks officially began again on October 6th. However, while things looked promising at first, talks took a turn on October 11th when the actors union presented their latest proposal. Their new proposal included huge viewership bonuses for actors that would cost studios over $800 million a year as well as a 2% streaming revenue-sharing proposal that would give those funds to SAG-AFTRA members in the production. In addition, the union wanted a $1 set fee per subscriber and larger minimum wage increases.

The studios walked away, leaving the union fuming. After numerous inter-union proposals were shot down, talks between the sides restarted last week because of pressure from actors within the union. However, studios soon made it clear that an agreement needed to be made in the next week to salvage what remained of the fall schedule and all partially completed productions. Specifically, no new productions could be started by next year if an agreement isn’t in place. During the week, both sides gave their latest proposals, with studios saying that if no agreement could be reached within a week, serious talks would likely not resume until January because of upcoming holidays and the window to resume productions in time to salvage the remainder of 2023 closing.

Talks continued into Saturday and Sunday, with progress being made. SAG-AFTRA decreased their pay rise demand from 11% to 9%, closing in on the studios 7% offer. The quarrel over the streaming subscriber charge was also worked around, making it more merit-based coming from the success of a show. Both sides also talked about the AI issue.

Negotiations continue

“Over the course of the weekend, we have discussed all open proposals, including AI, with the AMPTP,” said SAG-AFTRA head Fran Drescher. “Both parties will be working independently Monday and re-engage on scheduling at the end of the day. Join us and flood picket lines in the morning. Make your voices heard.”

Despite the optimism, higher-ups from both sides warned on Monday that there was still a long way to go and that while they were closer to a deal, there are still many issues to resolve in the coming days and weeks.

“Anything is possible when it comes to a deal today,” added guild chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. “There’s still a way to go. People seem to think we’re at a point where we’re just dotting I’s and crossing T’s. That’s not the situation; there are substantive issues, we’re still working hard to bridge real gaps. But the dialogue has been productive and constructive. We’re just gonna keep at it.”

However, union experts said that the next week is crunch time for both sides, as a work stoppage until 2024 is becoming increasingly likely.

“SAG-AFTRA’s negotiations have been abysmal,” said Theresa Stevenson, an arbitrator in Michigan who has helped settled union disputes and strikes in the past. “Drescher will probably not be president again after this. She has proven to be not serious, even bringing in toys to meetings. And Crabtree-Ireland has proven to be one of the worst union negotiators in recent history. You just don’t tack on things late into the game like he did. A lot of union members don’t like him too because he is fighting for residuals, which only the most well-paid actors get. He’s the new Robert Poli essentially.

“This strike has hurt LA, California, and many places outside it including New York and Atlanta. A lot of productions have gone to the UK and Canada during this time. It’s good that both sides are getting closer, but SAG-AFTRA leadership is going to be reorgainized after all this most likely, as will some studios ranks. It’s not like the WGA and UAW where the higher wages would be benefiting those not making ends meet. SAG-AFTRA mainly benefits those that make the most, and these negotiations are proving it.”

Talks are expected to continue this week following a break on Monday.


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