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SAG-AFTRA officially calls strike, union leaders say actors ‘victimised’ by AMPTP

SAG-AFTRA is officially on strike after its board unanimously voted for a work stoppage, the first time in almost 40 years that the US actors’ union has done so.

Fran Drescher

The strike officially commenced at 00:01 Pacific Time today, 24 hours after SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) concluded their extended negotiating period without a new deal agreed.

During a blistering address at a SAG-AFTRA press conference in LA yesterday afternoon, president Fran Drescher said the union felt it had no option but to strike given that the AMPTP was unwilling to engage on fundamental issues around how the business has changed.

“It came with great sadness that we came to this crossroads. But we had no choice. We are the victims here. We are being victimised by a very greedy entity,” she said.

“I am shocked by the way the people that we have been in business with are treating us. I cannot believe it, quite frankly, how far apart we are on so many things. How [the studios] plead poverty, that they’re losing money left and right, when giving hundreds of millions to their CEOs. It is disgusting. Shame on them.”

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland

The strike means that SAG-AFTRA’s 160,000 members will now join the Writers Guild of America (WGA) on the picket lines, marking the first time two of Hollywood’s major unions have struck concurrently.

Both SAG-AFTRA and the WGA have communicated similar sentiments in recent months, specifically that the shift to streaming has brought with it a business model that doesn’t reflect their value in the content creation ecosystem.

“You cannot change the business model as much as it has changed and not expect the contract to change too,” said Drescher. “We’re not going to keep doing incremental changes on a contract that no longer honours what is happening right now with this business model that was foisted upon us.”

The AMPTP countered in a statement by saying it had presented a deal that offered “historic” increases in areas including pay, residuals and pension, in addition to offering what it called 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,” said the trade association, which represents Hollywood’s major studios in labour matters.

“[SAG-AFTRA] has regrettably chosen a path that will lead to financial hardship for countless thousands of people who depend on the industry.”

Specifically, the AMPTP said its offer included: the highest percentage increase in minimums in 35 years; a 76% increase in high-budget SVoD foreign residuals; substantial increases in pension and health contribution caps; and a 58% increase in salaries for major role (guest star) performers’ wages on high-budget SVoD programmes.

On the AI front, SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland disputed AMPTP’s claim that the offer was groundbreaking.

“They proposed that our background performers should be able to be scanned and paid for one day’s pay, and [the AMPTP’s] companies should own that scan, their image, their likeness and be able to use it for the rest of eternity in any project they want, with no consent and no compensation. So, if you think that’s a ‘groundbreaking’ proposal, I suggest you think again,” he said.

While few American series are currently shooting due to the writers’ strike, the start of the SAG-AFTRA strike will mean a total shutdown of all unionised TV and film shoots that might still have been underway.

In addition, the strike means that actors are not allowed to participate in tours, junkets, interviews, conventions, festivals, premieres and other events associated with the promotion of their projects.

Stars of Steven Spielberg’s war drama Oppenheimer, including Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt and Robert Downey Jr, all left a London screening early after the SAG strike was officially called, while a red carpet premiere for Paramount+ drama Special Ops: Lioness in LA was also cancelled.

Should the strike extend into the autumn, it will create chaos in the film festival calendar, with marquee festivals including Toronto, Venice and Telluride in jeopardy of being drastically upended.

Earlier yesterday, Disney CEO Bob Iger caused a stir with comments made about the SAG-AFTRA strike, telling CNBC that the striking unions are not being “realistic” about the kind of deal that is achievable given the various economic challenges facing the US studios.

“It’s very disturbing to me,” he said, adding that “this is the worst time in the world to add to that disruption.”

He added: “We managed, as an industry, to negotiate a very good deal [with the Directors Guild of America] that reflects the value that the directors contribute to this great business. We wanted to do the same thing with the writers, and we’d like to do the same thing with the actors.

“There’s a level of expectation that they have that is just not realistic, and they are adding to the set of challenges that this business is already facing that is, quite frankly, very disruptive.”

Following the SAG-AFTRA press conference, numerous unions and guilds came out in support of the actors’ union’s decision to strike.

In a joint statement, Teamsters, IATSE, WGA and DGA said: “While the studios have collective worth of trillions of dollars, billions of viewers globally and sky-high profits, this fight is not about actors against the studios, but rather about workers across all crafts and departments in the industry standing together to prevent mega-corporations from eroding the conditions we fought decades to achieve.”

Asked when SAG-AFTRA would be willing to resume negotiations with the AMPTP, Crabtree-Ireland said the union would be willing to resume talks immediately if the studios are willing to come back to the table.

Crabtree-Ireland said that he and Drescher spoke to several of the studio CEOs “at length” on Wednesday.

“They know what it would take to make a deal. They had the power in their hands to make a deal and avoid a strike – they chose not to do that,” he said.


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