SAG-AFTRA Approves Strike as Actors Demand Better Pay and AI Protections

SAG-AFTRA Approves Strike as Actors Demand Better Pay and AI Protections

In a groundbreaking move, SAG-AFTRA‘s (Screen Actors Guild. American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) national board of directors unanimously voted in favor of a strike action by tens of thousands of Hollywood actors. This decision widens the scope of labor unrest in an entertainment industry that is already grappling with various challenges. The vote came after failed negotiations between the actors’ union and major studios to reach a new film and TV contract.

Joining the ranks of screenwriters already on picket lines, actors have been fighting for a comprehensive agreement that would secure fairer compensation, especially regarding streaming revenues and residuals. Additionally, they have raised concerns about the use of artificial intelligence, which has been causing upheaval in the entertainment landscape.

Despite the intervention of a federal mediator in the eleventh hour, the 160,000-member union could not secure a deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the representative body for studios in labor negotiations. Consequently, the previous collective bargaining agreement expired without a new agreement in place.

At a noon news conference in Los Angeles, union leaders announced the board’s vote, with SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher passionately declaring,

“We are the victims here. We are being victimized by a very greedy entity.” Drescher went on to criticize the studios, stating, “I’m shocked by the way the people we have been in business with are treating us. It is disgusting. Shame on them. They stand on the wrong side of history at this very moment.”

In response, the studios argued that the union turned down an offer that included “historic” pay increases and residuals, as well as a “groundbreaking” proposal to protect actors in relation to artificial intelligence. They emphasized that their offer included a requirement for performers’ consent regarding the use of digital replicas or alterations of their performances.

SAG-AFTRA Approves Strike as Actors Demand Better Pay and AI Protections

AMPTP, representing the studios, expressed disappointment over the union’s strike declaration and acknowledged the negative financial impact it would have on numerous individuals dependent on the industry. This strike further intensifies the ongoing labor strife that began when the Writers Guild of America initiated a strike on May 2. The actors’ strike is scheduled to commence at midnight.

This simultaneous strike by actors and writers marks the first time in 63 years that both groups have taken such action. It highlights the industry’s struggle to address the compensation challenges posed by the streaming era.

Among their key demands, the union has been advocating for higher minimum wages to counter inflation. Actors also seek increased streaming residuals, a share in the success of successful productions, improved health and pension plans, and safeguards concerning the use of artificial intelligence—an increasingly prevalent tool in the industry.

SAG-AFTRA has also sought to address the burdensome practice of self-taped auditions, which actors argue impose unnecessary pressure and costs on performers seeking work.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA’s chief negotiator, expressed disappointment in the AMPTP’s approach, stating, “The AMPTP has remained steadfast in devaluing the work of our members. A strike is an instrument of last resort… Unfortunately, they have left us with no alternative.”

AMPTP countered by claiming that their offers included the “highest percentage increase” in guild minimums in 35 years, substantial increases in pension and health contribution caps, and salary hikes for major role performers in high-budget streaming programs. For background actors, stand-ins, and photo doubles, the pay increase was set at a minimum of 11% in the first year.

Negotiations between the two parties commenced on June 7, preceded by SAG-AFTRA securing a strike authorization from its members with an impressive 98% approval rate. Although initial talks seemed “extremely productive,” according to SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher in a video message to members, concerns arose among high-profile members, including Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, and Ben Stiller. In an open letter to union leadership, they urged against settling for anything less than a “transformative” deal, citing the industry’s unprecedented inflection point.

With the original June 30 deadline passed, the union extended the contract by 12 days to allow for continued negotiations until Wednesday, July 12. However, the lack of a satisfactory agreement prompted the decision to proceed with the strike.

SAG-AFTRA Board Approves Strike Action as Hollywood Actors Demand Better Pay and AI Protections