SAG-AFTRA Declares Double Strike as Actors Join Writers on Picket Lines

Angelique Jackson

SAG-AFTRA announced Thursday that it is on strike against the film and TV companies, marking only the second time in Hollywood history that actors have joined writers on the picket lines.

The SAG-AFTRA national board held its meeting on Thursday morning and voted unanimously to approve a strike recommendation forwarded by the negotiating committee, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, chief negotiator of SAG-AFTRA, said during a press conference.

“Union members should withhold their labor until a fair contract can be achieved,” he told the room of SAG actors and journalists. “They have left us with no alternative.”

The strike begins at midnight on Friday and picketing will start on Friday morning. According to the guidelines, SAG-AFTRA members will not be able to attend premieres, do interviews for completed work, go to awards shows, attend film festivals or even promote projects on social media while the strike is in effect.

“We are being victimised by a very greedy enterprise,” SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher said during Thursday’s press conference. “At some point you have to say ‘No, we’re not going to take this anymore. You people are crazy. What are you doing? Why are you doing this?’”

In her impassioned plea, she argued that streaming and artificial intelligence have upended the entertainment industry’s business model. But, she continued, the SAG-AFTRA contracts haven’t been updated to reflect those advancements.

“If we don’t stand tall right now, we are all going to be in jeopardy. You cannot change the business model as much as it has been changed and not expect the contract to change too,” she said. “I cannot believe … how [the studios] plead poverty, that they are losing money left and right, when they give hundreds of millions to their CEOs. It is disgusting. Shame on them.”

The union’s contract expired at midnight Wednesday, after having been extended through July 12, and a month of negotiations resulted in little progress on a host of issues. SAG-AFTRA has emphasised the role of artificial intelligence and the transition to streaming in explaining the need for a work stoppage.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios, argues it presented a deal that offered “historic pay and residual increases, substantially higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, and a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors’ digital likenesses for SAG-AFTRA members.”

“A strike is certainly not the outcome we hoped for as studios cannot operate without the performers that bring our TV shows and films to life,” the AMPTP said in a statement after the strike was confirmed. “The Union has regrettably chosen a path that will lead to financial hardship for countless thousands of people who depend on the industry.”

In response to the AMPTP’s statement, Crabtree-Ireland said at the press conference, “If you think this is a historic proposal, think again.”

All production under the SAG-AFTRA TV and film contract will immediately halt, bringing projects to a standstill both in the U.S. and around the globe. The strike is the first under the performers’ film and TV contract since 1980.

The only previous “double strike” — involving both actors and writers — came in 1960, when the Screen Actors Guild was led by Ronald Reagan. In that strike, both the writers and actors were wrestling with compensation issues arising from the dawn of television. Together, they won residuals for TV reruns and for broadcast of films on TV, and established the first pension and welfare plan.

This time around, both unions are battling the rise of streaming TV, which they say has suppressed wages and made it difficult for middle-class creators to sustain a career. Both unions have also taken aim at AI, which they fear studios will use to further devalue their work and perhaps replace them altogether.

In a statement, WGA says it stands “solidly behind our union siblings in SAG-AFTRA as they begin their work stoppage.”

“The last time both of our unions struck at the same time, actors and writers won landmark provisions that we all continue to benefit from today – residuals and pension and health funds,” the WGA negotiating committee said in a statement.

The AMPTP said it was “disappointed” that SAG-AFTRA had walked away from the table, and rejected an agreement that provided significant wage increases and protections against AI.

The streamers have refused a key demand of both unions, however: to share streaming viewership data and pay creators more for high-performing shows.

From Variety US