Hollywood actors set the stage for strike action after contract negotiations fail

2023-07-13 - Scroll down for original article

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Hollywood actors could soon have a new role: picketers. Thousands of screen performers represented by the powerful labor union SAG-AFTRA, which stands for the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, are on course for strike action after the guild and a trade association representing the industry’s leading studios could not agree on a new contract. "SAG-AFTRA’s Television/Theatrical/Streaming contracts have expired without a successor agreement," the union said in a statement early Thursday. It is seeking higher compensation and safeguards around the use of artificial intelligence in the creative arts. The union said that after more than four weeks of bargaining the group that represents major studios and streamers including Amazon, Apple, Disney, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Paramount, Sony and Warner Bros. Discovery "remains unwilling to offer a fair deal on the key issues that are essential to SAG-AFTRA members." The union's national board will meet Thursday morning to decide whether to order a strike, with a press conference set to be held at 12 noon PT. SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher said: "SAG-AFTRA negotiated in good faith and was eager to reach a deal that sufficiently addressed performer needs, but the AMPTP’s responses to the union’s most important proposals have been insulting and disrespectful of our massive contributions to this industry." The contract between the two sides expired just before midnight on Wednesday, capping days of high-stakes negotiations and suspense. The strike will be limited to film and television productions. The walkout will not involve SAG-AFTRA members who work in the news business, such as certain broadcast hosts and announcers. The announcement comes more than two months after the Writers Guild of America, a union that represents film and television scribes, started striking amid its own dispute with the AMPTP. (The group represents Comcast, the corporation that owns NBCUniversal; some employees of the NBCUniversal News Group are represented by the WGA.) The writers’ walkout halted most most television production, delayed the filming of some high-profile movies and sent late-night talk shows into reruns. The actors’ strike will likely force other sets to go dark. SAG-AFTRA members authorized a strike on June 5 by an overwhelming margin: 97.91% of the nearly 65,000 members who cast votes. The guild began negotiating with the top studios and streaming services two days later. The union’s existing contract with the major studios originally expired at midnight on June 30, but both sides agreed to continue negotiations and extended the talks until July 12. SAG-AFTRA has argued that performers have been undermined by the new economics of streaming entertainment and threatened by rising technologies. The guild is seeking increased base compensation for performers, which union leaders say has declined as streaming-first studios pivot away from paying out residuals to talent and inflation takes its toll on the economy in general. The union’s actors are also alarmed by the threat posed by the unrelated use of artificial intelligence (such as tools that can make digital replacements for recognizable stars) and the cost of “self-taped auditions” — videos that used to be paid for by casting departments and production offices. In recent weeks, some in the entertainment business worried that all three major Hollywood guilds — SAG-AFTRA, the WGA and the Directors Guild of America, or DGA — would walk off the job simultaneously. But that will not be the case since the DGA announced in early June it had reached a “truly historic” tentative agreement with the studios.