The simultaneous strikes by movie and television writers and movie and television actors have one big thing in common: Both of their unions have been negotiating—and failed to reach an agreement—with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The big studios are the common thread here. However, the big studios and their multimillionaire executives have launched a colossal PR campaign to blame ‘greedy’ writers and actors for daring to ask that the extremely profitable studios pay them a little better and don’t use artificial intelligence to plagiarize their work and steal their images in a bid to replace them within the next few years.
“Rather than continuing to negotiate, SAG-AFTRA has put us on a course that will deepen the financial hardship for thousands who depend on the industry for their livelihoods,” the AMPTP said in a statement as the actors union launched its strike. As if SAG-AFTRA members are not themselves among the thousands who depend on the industry for their livelihoods. As if the AMPTP were not a party to negotiations that had dragged on past the original deadline and ultimately broken down.
Disney CEO Bob Iger, who is on track to be paid $27 million this year, offered a condescending lecture immediately in advance of the SAG-AFTRA strike, saying, “There’s a level of expectation that they have, that is just not realistic. And they are adding to the set of the challenges that this business is already facing that is, quite frankly, very disruptive.”
The WGA proposal that is “just not realistic” would cost AMPTP members a total of $343 million. Disney’s share of that would be $75 million—less than three times Iger’s projected compensation for 2023 and less than 0.1% of Disney’s total revenue. Meanwhile, according to a WGA analysis, the major studios went from $5 billion in entertainment profit in 2000 to $30 billion in 2019—$20 billion if you exclude sports and news networks from entertainment profits.
You’ll also see a lot of reports on the economic impact of the strike—up to $150 million a week—that rarely connect the dots. If workers withholding their labor have that kind of economic impact, it shows that their labor is worth what they’re asking for, which amounts to a few weeks of the reported economic impact of the strike. A strike is literally a display of how disruptive it is when workers withhold their labor in an organized way. If it’s very disruptive, it should be taken as a powerful sign that their labor is worth a great deal.
But the studios have a strategy: drag their feet on negotiations until the workers, most of whom are struggling to get by under the current contracts, can’t afford to hold out any longer. “It’s been agreed to for months, even before the WGA went out,” to hold out for months, a studio executive told Deadline before SAG-AFTRA went on strike. Another said, “The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses.” The studios can make that plan because despite all the whining, they and their executives have the money to wait it out, and they know that the people they pay to write and act for them do not.
Members of two professions with different interests and different internal union politics can’t reach an agreement with one industry group, an industry group with highly paid executives who are anonymously admitting that the plan is to refuse to negotiate until it has impoverished workers enough to break their spirits—and maybe their union. That has to be the story everyone, from the media to people chatting in coffee shops and on text chains, understands and tells about what’s going on here.