The labor conflict in the film and TV industry is on the brink of intensification as the union representing Hollywood actors edges closer to a strike, aligning with the ongoing picket lines of the writers. This would mark a significant development, reminiscent of the last back-to-back walkouts in 1960, further exacerbating the labor dispute that has sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry.
Despite the last-minute involvement of a federal mediator aimed at facilitating a resolution, the two sides failed to reach a new film and TV contract before the Wednesday night deadline.
In a resounding mandate, 98% of the union’s members previously authorized their leaders to call for a strike if a new contract could not be secured to replace the one that expired on June 30.
SAG-AFTRA leaders announced that the guild’s negotiating committee unanimously recommended a strike action to the union’s national board of directors. Pending formal approval, the strike could commence as early as Friday, with planned pickets in Los Angeles, New York, and other major cities. Tensions reached a boiling point on Tuesday when SAG-AFTRA publicly criticized the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) over a last-minute proposal to involve a federal mediator in resolving the labor conflict. The AMPTP’s request for mediator assistance followed discussions among top Hollywood executives, including Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav. The sudden move was deemed by SAG-AFTRA leaders as a “cynical ploy,” as they were not informed of the mediator proposal until it was leaked to a trade publication.
Given the limited time available for the federal mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to engage in negotiations, there is little optimism for a resolution before the midnight deadline. Despite the contract expiration, SAG-AFTRA expressed a commitment to negotiating in good faith and exploring all possible avenues for a fair and equitable deal. However, skepticism persists regarding the employers’ intentions to engage in meaningful bargaining.
If the actors proceed with a strike, it would create a fresh crisis for Hollywood, already grappling with the ongoing writers’ strike that commenced on May 2. The simultaneous walkout by actors and writers would bring scripted production activities to a grinding halt and have far-reaching implications for planned movies and TV shows. The fall TV season, already plagued by delays resulting from the writers’ strike, hangs precariously in the balance. The extended production shutdowns and uncertainty would also deal a severe blow to Southern California’s economy, affecting thousands of crew members and the numerous small businesses that rely on the region’s bustling entertainment industry.
Negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP, representing the major studios, commenced on June 7 and were extended until July 12 to allow for further bargaining. Although guild leaders had initially expressed optimism about the progress made, sources familiar with the negotiations, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed that the two sides remained far apart on key issues. Actors, like writers, argue that they have been disadvantaged by the streaming revolution and seek improved residual payments for shows distributed on platforms such as Netflix. A particularly contentious issue revolves around SAG-AFTRA’s demand for a significant increase in residual payments from streaming platforms to better reflect the success of shows and improve payment calculations. Studios have resisted the inclusion of a third-party firm to estimate viewership and assert that many streaming platforms are yet to turn a profit.
Apart from addressing residual payments, actors are also seeking higher wages to offset inflation, improvements to the union’s health and pension plan, and safeguards concerning the use of artificial intelligence (AI), an issue that has garnered increasing concern among performers. SAG-AFTRA has also raised objections to the growing prevalence of time-consuming and costly self-tape auditions.
The last time actors embarked on a strike over their film and TV contract was in 1980, when the union sought a larger share of profits from the emerging home video market. In 2000, SAG members engaged in a six-month strike primarily focused on a fee system for commercials. This imminent strike would be the first for SAG-AFTRA since its formation in 2012, resulting from the merger of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
Negotiations between the AMPTP and the writers’ union have yet to resume. While the AMPTP reached an agreement with the Directors Guild of America in June, securing pay increases, a new residual based on international subscriptions to streaming platforms, and limitations on AI usage, representatives of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and SAG-AFTRA have made it clear that the contract does not adequately address their concerns, and they will not be bound by the terms agreed upon by another union.