Editor’s note: Almost a week into the first joint strike by the actors union and the writers guild since 1960, there are picket lines all over LA and NYC. Yet there are no new negotiations planned between SAG-AFTRA or the WGA and the studios and streamers. Despite the silence and divisions between the parties, SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland insists that a pathway to a new contract and a better future for all is possible.
Hollywood is shut down.
You’ve seen the countless headlines, the ubiquitous photos and footage of familiar and less-familiar faces of actors standing shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity with their union siblings from all the unions representing the rest of the working industry on the picket lines. This is the first time in more than 60 years that SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild of America have gone on strike at the same time.
Today, Netflix is scheduled to hold its first earnings call since the Writers Guild and SAG-AFTRA strikes began. The company’s report is unlikely to reflect the pain that a work stoppage brings, but that pain is very real.
Summer blockbusters, like Barbie and Oppenheimer, cannot be promoted by guild members. Production has been halted. Cast and crew are returning from far-flung locations. Our members and those of the other guilds and unions and many others are making this terrible sacrifice because the future of their livelihoods is at stake.
Strikes are always instruments of last resort. No one wants to shut down the industry. The consequences are real for each and every one of our members as well as the rest of the workers in the industry, and they reverberate beyond. While our audiences miss seeing the content they love, when our members don’t work, they lose the income they and their families rely on. The realities of a strike are hard on all of us.
Despite these realities, SAG-AFTRA’s member solidarity is stronger than ever.
Our 160,000 members voted 98% yes to authorize this strike.
Thousands upon thousands of members have descended upon our strike lines, raising picket signs and their voices to send a message to the studios and streamers. We will remain steadfast in our commitment to this strike as long as the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers refuses to treat our members fairly and with respect. They must acknowledge the enormous impact that the shifts in our industry have had on people: the creators of the content that IS their business. Whether out of avarice or a simple desire to keep workers stuck in a business model from the past, the AMPTP has been simply unwilling to offer a fair deal to workers who deserve a contract that reflects the realities of our industry today.
What we are really talking about here is worker livelihoods vs. studio profits. Actors made a median salary of $46,960 in 2021, with the lower quartile at $30,040. At the same time, studio profits have ballooned to over $12 billion per year. It’s inherently unfair that, as our industry grows, middle-class acting is becoming less sustainable as a career.
Here is what is missing from the current coverage and conversations about the strike: Where do we go from here? How do we protect the creative industry and those who produce the art that so many Americans consume every day – now and into the future?
In 2023, we must do more than just change the conversation.
We must have concrete action in the form of an agreement that protects the working actors the industry relies on. This deal must include:
- Compensation based in economic fairness. Crucially, minimum pay must increase to keep up with inflation so our members aren’t falling behind year after year. Contribution caps set decades ago have to be updated for inflation so they stop holding our health and retirement funds back with inadequate contributions from employers. Actors shouldn’t have to pay out of pocket for travel expenses when working away from home — that should be reimbursed just like these same companies do for their execs.
- Protections against actors and performers having their identities and talent taken from them using AI without informed consent and pay. Performers need provisions that require informed consent and fair compensation when digital replicas of their performance and likeness are created or used. If AI is going to be incorporated into the entertainment industry, it must be done in a way that respects actors, and their individual right to control their own bodies, voice, image, and likeness, whether in real or digital form. Nothing less than that is going to be acceptable.
- Meaningful sharing in the revenue from streaming platforms built on actors’ backs. The current streaming model fails to share the revenue that is generated entirely due to the work of the creative talent in this industry, especially including the faces, voices and likenesses of our members. The public doesn’t subscribe to streaming services because of their fondness for the CEO. A reasonable share of that revenue paid to performers and other creators is the least these megacorporations can do to show the respect and fairness our members deserve and demand.
Many issues remain on the table, including key matters of basic dignity and respect, ranging from equal treatment for hair and makeup for our diverse community of performers to protecting the concept of the weekend from constant short-notice self-tape audition requests to getting a paycheck on time on a regular basis.
These are among the key issues that the studios have refused to move on. But they are essential as part of a fair deal.
SAG-AFTRA will always fight for the dignity of our members. SAG-AFTRA will always stand strong and united until a transformative agreement is achieved. And SAG-AFTRA will never apologize for demanding the fair and equitable deal our members rightfully deserve.
Studios and workers can both win. This doesn’t need to be a zero-sum game.
Studio and streamer CEOs: it’s time to step up, get personally involved, and come to the table.
Let’s move forward to a better future of respect for all workers. Let’s get equitable contracts in place for the creators (who you can’t do without), and let’s get back to the business of running the dream factory that drew many of us to the industry in the first place.