Hollywood Actors Prepare to Strike After SAG-AFTRA Contract Expiry Without Agreed Deal
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Hollywood Actors Prepare to Strike After SAG-AFTRA Contract Expiry Without Agreed Deal

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The labor conflict engulfing the film and TV industry is set to escalate as the union representing Hollywood actors prepares to go on strike, joining the ongoing picket lines of the writers. This marks a significant development, as back-to-back walkouts of this nature have not occurred since 1960, amplifying the labor dispute that has roiled the entertainment industry.

Despite the involvement of a federal mediator brought in at the eleventh hour to facilitate a resolution, the two sides failed to reach a new film and TV contract before the Wednesday night deadline.

An overwhelming 98% of the union’s members had 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. The strike could commence as early as Friday, with planned pickets in Los Angeles, New York, and other cities. Tensions flared on Tuesday when SAG-AFTRA 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 made the request for mediator assistance after key Hollywood executives, including Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, held discussions to address the labor standoff. SAG-AFTRA leaders characterized the move as a “cynical ploy,” expressing their frustration with not being informed of the mediator proposal before it was leaked to a trade publication.

With the federal mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service joining the negotiations only on Wednesday, there is little expectation that the conflict will be resolved before the midnight deadline. SAG-AFTRA stated that they remain committed to negotiating in good faith and securing a fair and just deal, despite the expiration of their agreement. They emphasized their willingness to explore every possible opportunity for a resolution but expressed doubts about the employers’ intentions to engage in meaningful bargaining.

An actors’ strike would create a new crisis for Hollywood, which is already grappling with the ongoing writers’ strike that began on May 2. The combined impact of an actors’ strike and writers’ strike would halt any remaining scripted production activities and have far-reaching consequences for planned movies and TV shows. The fall TV season, which features new shows and existing series already delayed by the writers’ strike, hangs in the balance. The prolonged production shutdowns and uncertainty would also deal a significant blow to Southern California’s economy, affecting thousands of crew members and the small businesses reliant on the region’s thriving entertainment industry.

Negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP, representing the major studios, began on June 7. The talks were extended until July 12 to allow for further bargaining, with guild leaders expressing positive progress. However, sources familiar with the negotiations, who were not authorized to comment, revealed that the two sides remained far apart on crucial issues. Actors, like writers, claim to have been adversely affected by the streaming revolution and are seeking to enhance their residual payments for shows distributed on platforms such as Netflix. One particularly contentious issue is SAG-AFTRA’s demand for a significant boost in residual payments from streaming platforms to reflect show success and improve payment calculations. Studios have raised objections to involving a third-party firm to estimate viewership and argue that many streaming platforms are not yet profitable.

In addition to addressing residual payments, actors are also demanding higher wages to counter inflation, improvements to the union’s health and pension plan, and safeguards concerning the use of artificial intelligence (AI), a growing concern for performers. SAG-AFTRA has also raised concerns about the rising prevalence of time-consuming and costly self-tape auditions.

The last time actors went on 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 staged a six-month strike focused on a fee system for commercials. This impending strike would be the first for SAG-AFTRA, formed in 2012 through 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. 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 restrictions on AI usage. However, representatives of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and SAG-AFTRA have stated that the contract does not adequately address their concerns and that they will not be bound by the terms agreed upon by another union.

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