On Strike placard sits in garbage pail post strike. Narrow depth with soft background. Shot in sun setting light.
On Strike placard sits in garbage pail post strike. Narrow depth with soft background. Shot in sun setting light.

SAG Actors Union Officially On Strike Following AMPTP’s Failure to Negotiate

UPDATE: It’s official. The SAG-AFTRA union is on strike, making this the first time writers and actors have gone on strike together in nearly 60 years, and the first time SAG has gone on strike since 1980. This decision was made unanimously and following a vote on Thursday morning, July 13.

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The strike will officially begin at midnight, with information regarding picketing going out imminently. The following statement was sent to members directly from SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland:

From the time negotiations began on June 7, the members of our Negotiating Committee and our staff team have spent many long days, weekends and holidays working to achieve a deal that protects you, the working actors and performers on whom this industry relies. As you know, over the past decade, your compensation has been severely eroded by the rise of the streaming ecosystem. Furthermore, artificial intelligence poses an existential threat to creative professions, and all actors and performers deserve contract language that protects them from having their identity and talent exploited without consent and pay. Despite our team’s dedication to advocating on your behalf, the AMPTP has refused to acknowledge that enormous shifts in the industry and economy have had a detrimental impact on those who perform labor for the studios.

Though we’ve engaged in negotiations in good faith and remained eager to reach a deal that sufficiently addressed performer concerns, the AMPTP’s responses to our proposals have not been adequate. 

SAG-AFTRA News Updates

The union anticipated that the AMPTP’s “delay tactics” and lack of transparency would ultimately bear no fruit, so members have been gearing up for a strike for a while—so much so that by midnight, some members were already announcing the strike ahead of the “official” vote.

And indeed, during the press conference to confirm the vote, Drescher expanded upon these points in a passionate, rallying speech. “The jig is up! We stand tall, and we demand respect, because you cannot exist without us!”

Although it is disturbing that the state of entertainment is such that even actors are being deprioritized to such a degree, it is heartening to see these strong displays of solidarity across the board. The strike is a symbol of unity and an unwillingness to bend to the ignorant, greedy corporate demands that are currently driving this industry.

We stand in solidarity with SAG-AFTRA! Actors, writers, and everyone involved in this business deserve to equilaterally pursue their craft without caving to “disemboweling” demands!

Original story continues below

SAG-AFTRA’s road to strike

When one card drops, another will follow. The WGA writers’ strike has garnered the attention and support of countless people, including other unions, who are starting to follow their example. SAG-AFTRA—the Screen Actors Guild & American Federation of Television and Radio Artists—will enter negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on June 7, and as that date approaches, the union has closed voting for its strike authorization, with members overwhelmingly voting “yes” to authorize a strike.

With votes from 65,000 members of the 160,000 represented by the union, as voting closed on June 5, 2023, 98% voted to authorize a strike in the event that negotiations with the AMPTP fail. That doesn’t mean SAG-AFTRA is definitely going on strike, but it’s a step in that direction should it become necessary in order to secure fair treatment from studios.

Per their website, and penned by Fran Drescher and Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, their letter to members about the vote went as such:

On June 7, SAG-AFTRA will enter into negotiations with the trade association representing major studios, streamers and production companies — the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). 

Our goal in this negotiation is to ensure our members working in film, television and streaming/new media can continue to earn a professional living with a contract that honors our contributions. 

We need a contract that will increase contributions to our benefit plans and protect members from erosion of income due to inflation and reduced residuals, unregulated use of generative AI, and demanding self-taped auditions.  

Your negotiating committee, National Board and leadership are 100% in support of entering negotiations with a strike authorization in hand. 

Why? Because they appreciate that timing is EVERYTHING! We simply can’t wait to start scrambling on the backend of this contract to obtain a strike authorization. 

It’s important to understand that voting yes to give the negotiators a strike authorization is not voting to call a strike. Voting yes on a strike authorization means that you, as the member, give the National Board the power to call a strike if the AMPTP does not agree to essential contract improvements.

SAG enters these negotiations with the AMPTP every three years, so this date has already been set for quite some time. However, in the current age we live in, with the future of entertainment so uncertain (and, quite frankly, frightening), these upcoming negotiations will be even more pressing.

What are their demands?

Regarding their demands, the guild acknowledges this uncertain future as a direct result of the hyper-digital nature of modern entertainment. Similar to the WGA’s desire to be more involved in this evolution so their roles as writers don’t become even more deprioritized, SAG members are demanding to have more of a say in how their talents are implemented. As it is, the current standards set by the AMPTM were established 30 years ago—and much has changed since then!

By being more involved in this process of evolution, members are securing their right to more livable wages, more egalitarian models of payment, and a clearer understanding and access to equal input in regards to the rise of technology within entertainment. Specifically, this rise refers to the ever-shifting nature of streaming, and how AI factors into it all.

There is also the matter of unregulated self-taped auditions:

Self-taped auditions are unregulated and out of control: too many pages, too little time and unreasonable requirements have made self-taping auditions a massive, daily, uncompensated burden on the lives of performers.

Reasonable rules and limitations, and access to other casting formats, are sorely needed to ensure fair access to work opportunities and protect performers against exploitation.

Is SAG going on strike?

Voting “yes” on a strike authorization doesn’t mean an immediate strike. It means that, if their demands are not met, workers can legally authorize a strike once their contract expires on June 30. By striking, the industry will be forced, thanks to union solidarity, to reevaluate their priorities and bargain with their workers to meet a more equal agreement. With a strike authorization already approved before negotiations begin, negotiators will be able to enter the process with a strong set of tools at their disposal to get their demands met, including a very real threat of a strike. Only 75% “yes” is required for authorization, but with the vote at a high 98%, negotiators have even more strength in their position and leverage.

By contrast, voting “no” would have given the Powers That Be even more power to decide the value of their workers. And let’s be clear: the Powers That Be aren’t the ones entertaining us! The workers are! They are our radio personalities, our podcast producers, our journalists, our models, our musicians, and of course, our actors. They are talented people who bring us joy through their art, and they deserve to stand tall and securely for it!

Of course, there are situations in which members might feel conflicted by such a vote—journalists in particular were highlighted in the SAG page’s FAQ. Obviously, there might be journalistic conflict regarding voting, which is unfortunate yet ultimately reflective of the constrictive, unfair demands of the industry. We wanted a “yes”! But let’s try not to jump to conclusions about those who were not in a position to vote that way.

With negotiations starting June 7, we’ll continue to report on this as the story develops, but in the meantime, SAG-AFTRA members, we support you, and we wish you the best in the coming negotiations!

(featured image: tillsonburg/Getty Images)

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Madeline Carpou
Madeline (she/her) is a staff writer with a focus on AANHPI and mixed-race representation. She enjoys covering a wide variety of topics, but her primary beats are music and gaming. Her journey into digital media began in college, primarily regarding audio: in 2018, she started producing her own music, which helped her secure a radio show and co-produce a local history podcast through 2019 and 2020. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz summa cum laude, her focus shifted to digital writing, where she's happy to say her History degree has certainly come in handy! When she's not working, she enjoys taking long walks, playing the guitar, and writing her own little stories (which may or may not ever see the light of day).