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Hollywood actors to strike: SAG-AFTRA board unanimously votes for walkout

SAG-AFTRA members walk the picket line in solidarity with striking WGA (Writers Guild of America) workers outside Netflix offices on July 12, 2023, in Los Angeles, California. (Mario Tama/Getty Images/TNS)

LOS ANGELES — SAG-AFTRA’s national board of directors on Thursday voted unanimously to approve a strike action by tens of thousands of Hollywood actors, widening the scope of labor unrest in an entertainment industry that is already facing numerous headwinds.

The vote came after negotiations between the actors’ union and the major studios failed to reach an agreement on a new film and TV contract.

Actors — similarly to screenwriters already on picket lines — have been battling studios for a pact that would deliver far better pay and residuals from streaming and address other issues, including the use of artificial intelligence, that have been roiling the entertainment landscape.

Despite the last-minute involvement of a federal mediator, the 160,000-member union was unable to secure a deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios in labor dealings. The old collective bargaining agreement expired Wednesday night without a deal in place.

Union leaders announced the board’s vote at a noon press conference in Los Angeles.

The board’s vote clears the way for the union to begin nationwide pickets starting Friday and deepens the labor strife that has disrupted Hollywood since scribes represented by the Writers Guild of America went on strike on May 2. The actors’ strike begins at midnight.

It would mark the first time in 63 years that both actors and writers have been on strike at the same time as Hollywood grapples with issues over how talent is compensated in the streaming era.

“The studios and streamers have implemented massive unilateral changes in our industry’s business model, while at the same time insisting on keeping our contracts frozen in amber,” said national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland in a statement early Thursday, hours before the board vote.

AMPTP said that it was disappointed and that a strike would deepen financial hardship for those dependent on the industry, which includes not just writers and actors but also prop warehouses, makeup artists and set designers.

“This is the Union’s choice, not ours,” the studio alliance said. “In doing so, it has dismissed our offer of historic pay and residual increases, substantially higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors’ digital likenesses, and more.”

The union has been pushing for an increase in minimum wages to counter the effects of inflation. The actors also want increases to streaming residuals — royalties for when TV shows and films are replayed — and for their members to participate in the success of hits. They also want their health and pension plans boosted and desire protections related to the use of artificial intelligence, which has become an increasingly prevalent tool for studios and filmmakers.

The union also pushed for curbs to the practice of self-taped auditions, which actors argue put undue pressure and costs on performers trying to get work.

Negotiations began June 7, ahead of which SAG-AFTRA secured a strike authorization from members with a 98% approval margin.

Ahead of the original June 30 deadline, SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher said that the two sides were having “extremely productive” talks. However, that triggered concern from some of the union’s most high-profile members, including A-list stars, who wrote an open letter to leadership pressuring them not to settle for anything short of a “transformative” deal.

“We are concerned by the idea that SAG-AFTRA members may be ready to make sacrifices that leadership is not,” said the letter signed by Meryl Streep, Glenn Close and Ben Stiller. “This is an unprecedented inflection point in our industry, and what might be considered a good deal in any other years is simply not enough.”

The union was not able to secure a deal before the deadline and extended talks until 11:59 p.m. July 12.

Earlier this week, the AMPTP requested assistance from a federal mediator, which SAG-AFTRA agreed to. But the relationship between the two sides appeared to have soured. The guild accused the AMPTP of leaking information about the mediation plan before negotiators were made of aware of it, calling the move a “cynical ploy.”


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