Actors represented by the Hollywood union Sag-Aftra have overwhelmingly voted to strike if they don’t agree on a new contract with major studios, streamers and production companies by 30 June.
On Monday 65,000 members of the guild, which represents more than 160,000 screen actors, broadcast journalists, announcers, hosts and stunt performers, voted, with 98% supporting a strike if negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) fail.
After the vote, the Sag-Aftra president, Fran Drescher, told union members that she was “proud of all of you”.
“Together we lock elbows and in unity we build a new contract that honors our contributions in this remarkable industry, reflects the new digital and streaming business model and brings ALL our concerns for protections and benefits into the now!” she wrote. “Bravo Sag-Aftra, we are in it to win it.”
Talks between Sag-Aftra and AMPTP begin on Wednesday, a month after the Writers Guild of America (WGA) began striking over its own dispute with the AMPTP, which represents more than 350 Hollywood studios, television networks and streaming companies.
On Saturday the Directors Guild of America (DGA) reached a tentative, separate agreement with studios on issues including wages, streaming residuals and artificial intelligence.
If Sag-Aftra ultimately moves forward with the strike, it would be limited to television and film productions; news and broadcast work would not be directly affected.
At stake is increased base compensation, which actors say has been undercut by inflation and the streaming ecosystem, the threat of unregulated use of artificial intelligence, benefit plans and the burden of “self-taped auditions” — the cost of which used to be the responsibility of casting and production.
The strike authorization vote, a tool at the bargaining table, comes at a pivotal moment for the industry as 11,500 writers enter their sixth week of striking. Should the actors join the writers in striking, the industry would come to a near-standstill, from production to promoting completed projects.
The WGA, DGA and Sag-Aftra have shown solidarity with one another since the writers began walking the picket lines on 2 May. Many in Hollywood were worried about the real possibility that all three guilds would strike at the same time, as both the directors’ and the actors’ contracts were soon due to expire as well.
That scenario changed late on Saturday when the DGA, which represents 19,000 film, television and commercial directors, announced that it had reached a “truly historic” tentative agreement with studios. The terms, which have not been disclosed in detail to the press or the other guilds, will be presented to the DGA board on Tuesday for approval and then to the membership for ratification.
Representatives for both the WGA and Sag-Aftra congratulated the directors group for reaching a tentative deal, though neither commented on specific points of the DGA terms. The WGA also said its bargaining positions remained the same.
The DGA deal did not sit well with some individual WGA members, some of whom remembered when the directors negotiated their own contract while the writers were striking in 2007-08. That deal 15 years ago, some felt, set precedent that forced the writers to fall in line with the terms agreed to by the DGA and end the strike.
“Zero surprise,” television and film writer Steven DeKnight tweeted. “The AMPTP continues to use their tired old playbook. And the DGA sadly continues to toe the line, knowing that they can draft off of the WGA’s resolve to strike for a truly historic deal. Disappointing, but not surprising.”
Seemingly anticipating a repeat, the WGA negotiating committee last week released a letter cautioning that the studios would once again pursue a “divide and conquer” strategy, pitting the guilds against one another.
“Our position is clear: to resolve the strike, the companies will have to negotiate with the WGA on our full agenda,” the letter said. “We will continue to march until the companies negotiate fairly with us.”
While the unions have appeared more united this time, their aims are also different in many arenas. For the directors, securing international streaming residuals that account for subscriber growth was a key component, as were wages, safety – like banning live ammunition on set – diversity and inclusion and the addition of Juneteenth as a paid holiday.
The WGA agenda includes increased pay, better residuals and minimum staffing requirements.
One key area of overlap between all three guilds is AI: the DGA said it had reached a “groundbreaking agreement confirming that AI is not a person and that generative AI cannot replace the duties performed by members”.
Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the chief negotiator for Sag-Aftra, maintains the needs of the guild’s actor members are unique. Hollywood actors haven’t gone on strike against AMPTP since 1980, in a 95-day strike over terms for paid television and VHS tapes.
“Our bargaining strategy has never relied upon nor been dependent on the outcome or status of any other union’s negotiations, nor do we subscribe to the philosophy that the terms of deals made with other unions bind us,” Crabtree-Ireland said.