Hundreds of movie, TV, and streaming actors preparing to strike
SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher on the picket line with WGA members

NEW YORK and LOS ANGELES —Does this sound familiar? One month after the movie studio, television, and streaming video bosses forced their 11,500 Writers Guild of America members to strike, that same association is forcing more than ten times as many SAG-AFTRA members to take a strike authorization vote—and over almost all of the same issues.

The vote concludes June 5 and bargaining is scheduled to start June 7. The current contract between the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) expires June 30. The SAG-AFTRA board unanimously approved the strike authorization referendum, which needs a 75% minimum to pass.

But union President Fran Drescher, who’s been walking picket lines with her artistic colleagues of the Writers Guild, wants to garner at least 90% support.

“If ever there was a time to take action and demand seminal change it is NOW!” Drescher and Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the union’s Executive Director and chief negotiator, wrote in an open letter to members on behalf of the union board.

“Outdated contract terms, coupled with the evolution of the media business, including shorter season orders and longer hiatuses between seasons, makes it increasingly difficult for our members to achieve and maintain a middle-class lifestyle working as a performer,” SAG-AFTRA said in a q-and-a to members—in virtually the same language the Writers Guild used.

“In sharp contrast to the diminishing compensation paid to our members, the studios are posting immense profits with a bullish outlook as demonstrated by lavish corporate executive compensation.” That, too, is a contrast the Writers Guild makes.

“While the union’s leadership, national board, and negotiating committee members regard a strike as a last resort, we believe we must be ready for any eventuality, and have all of the leverage possible in order to secure the best deal,” their open letter to members continues.

“Timing is EVERYTHING! We simply can’t wait to start scrambling on the backend of this contract to obtain a strike authorization. We need you to vote yes to authorize a strike if push comes to shove,” Drescher and the board urged.

A strike authorization doesn’t necessarily mean workers will have to walk. “A strike is never a first option, but a last resort. Yet, it’s better to have and not need than to need and not have,” Drescher and the board wrote.

SAG-AFTRA made clear many of the same issues afflicting the writers afflict the actors, too. SAG-AFTRA is a merger of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Those issues include wage increases to catch up to inflation, better benefits, residuals—or lack of them—and the looming threat of “unregulated use of generative artificial intelligence” somehow replacing real people, the actors. They even include studio efforts to force “self-taped auditions,” robbing technicians and camerapeople of jobs. They also include shorter series, which means fewer work days.

Except for the self-taped auditions, those are virtually the same key issues that AMPTP refused to bargain over with the Writers Guild, forcing the writers to strike on June 2.

Drescher explained SAG-AFTRA contracts with AMPTP members–including Amazon/MGM, Apple, NBCUniversal, Disney/ABC/Fox, Netflix, Paramount/CBS, Sony, and Warner Brothers–“are based on a business model of 30 years ago“ and must be drastically revised to meet and anticipate changing conditions.

“Compensation has been undercut by inflation and by a streaming ecosystem through which producers pay less residual income than traditional exhibition models. Unregulated use of artificial intelligence threatens the very voices and likenesses that form the basis of professional acting careers,” the open letter says.

“The benefit plans that members rely upon for health care and a dignified retirement are under stress. And the shift to burdensome and unreasonably demanding self-taped auditions means our members are working harder than ever, forced to take on audition costs that have always been the responsibility of casting and production.”

There’s one exception to who would go out if SAG-AFTRA is forced to strike. One is broadcast news. The strike covers TV/theatrical and new media firms. “Scripted dramatic live-action entertainment production covered by the SAG-AFTRA TV/Theatrical Contracts would be considered struck work and you should not participate,” the union added.

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Press Associates
Press Associates

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.