Six weeks after the Writers Guild of America went on strike against the major movie, television, and streaming studios, the union representing movie and television actors has overwhelmingly authorized a strike. With nearly half of SAG-AFTRA members voting, the vote was nearly 97.9% in favor of a strike authorization.
An authorization is not the same thing as a strike. In this case, the performers’ contract doesn’t expire until June 30 and negotiations for a new contract are just starting. But the union is going into those negotiations having sent a strong signal to the studios that it will absolutely join the writers in striking if it doesn’t get a satisfactory contract. That could have a massive impact on the entertainment industry: “The writers strike has caused a sharp downturn in production, especially in television,” Variety’s Gene Maddaus writes. “If SAG-AFTRA goes on strike, any remaining film and TV production would halt immediately.”
”The studios right now can make movies without writers. They're saying, 'We already have a supply of material, we can easily go through the fall, we don't need anyone,'" University of Southern California labor historian Steve Ross told CBS News. "Well, you need actors. Even if you have scripts and you have directors, who's going to be acting?"
SAG-AFTRA cites some of the same concerns that have led to the WGA strike, including use of artificial intelligence and residual payments for work on streaming platforms. Another priority for the union is combatting the increasing reliance on self-taped auditions, which became common early in the COVID-19 pandemic but aren’t going away. The union says they “are unregulated and out of control: too many pages, too little time and unreasonable requirements have made self-taping auditions a massive, daily, uncompensated burden on the lives of performers.”
These concerns, as well as “stress” on health care and retirement plans, the union says, mean that “Without transformative change in the TV/Theatrical contracts, it will soon be unsustainable to pursue a career working under these conditions.” Like the WGA, SAG-AFTRA points to its members’ struggles while “the studios are posting immense profits with a bullish outlook as demonstrated by lavish corporate executive compensation.”
In other words, Hollywood is like so many other industries: The people at the top are sucking up the money at the expense of the people doing the work every day, who are forced to work harder and harder to get by.
Many high-profile performers have backed the striking writers, with Jennifer Garner, Mandy Patinkin, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the cast of Ted Lasso, and others joining picket lines. Miranda pulled out of writing a song for the Tony Awards in solidarity with the WGA. This weekend, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre announced they were postponing upcoming shows at the Hollywood Bowl, with Snoop Dogg saying, “We stand in solidarity with the unions and are hopeful that the AMPTP will negotiate fair deals as soon as possible, and everybody can get back to work.”
Over the weekend, the Directors Guild of America reached a tentative agreement in its own negotiations with the studios, getting what it said is a 76% increase in international residuals on the largest platforms.
SAG-AFTRA went on strike against video game makers in 2016 and 2017, and, prior to SAG and AFTRA’s merger, SAG struck against commercial producers in 2000. But actors have not gone on strike over their contracts with the major studios since 1980. Doing so at the same time as a major writers strike could produce an industry-wide reckoning.
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