Hollywood Is On Strike: Why Actors Have Joined Writers On The Picket Line

"What’s happening to us is happening across all fields of labor, when employers make Wall Street and greed their priority and they forget about the essential contributors that make the machine run.”

Fran Drescher Holds A Placard As SAG-AFTRA joins WGA for Historic Double Strike

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The Hollywood Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is on strike as of July 14.

Following the Writers Guild of America (WGA) going on strike on May 2, the Screen Actors Guild — the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) has joined them. This is the first time both the unions have been on strike at the same time since 1960.

Here’s everything about the historic double strike you need to know.

When Did This Happen?

Just like the WGA, SAG-AFTRA has been in negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The AMPTP is the negotiating entity representing the major production and distribution studios in labour negotiations in the US.

On the regular, the AMPTP enters into negotiations with the various unions to renegotiate the terms of their Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA). The MBA sets the standards for employment, including minimum wage, residuals and royalties, standard working conditions, and the use of AI.

In early May, SAG-AFTRA voted 97.91 percent in favour of a strike, ahead of negotiations for a new MBA with the AMPTP. Negotiations between the major studios and the actors’ union officially began on June 7, with the goal to negotiate a new MBA before the current MBA expired on June 30. When June 30 rolled around, the deadline was extended until July 12.

On July 13, SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher announced that negotiations with the AMPTP had stalled. Drescher announced that SAG-AFTRA would begin striking from July 14, joining the WGA on the picket lines.

What Were SAG-AFTRA’S Demands?

On July 18, SAG-AFTRA outlined their demands, and the AMPTP’s response. The demands, which were rejected, included: adjusting pay scales for inflation, casts sharing in revenue from streaming, increased compensation and wages for background actors, insurances against preferential treatment for actors who live outside of LA and NYC, updating meal breaks and rest periods from their 1981 standard, and of course, the protection from being from being replaced by AI.

Also, in a letter obtained by Rolling Stone from SAG-AFTRA members to Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, AI was highlighted as a key issue. The letter read:

“We do not believe that SAG-AFTRA members can afford to make halfway gains in anticipation that more will be coming in three years, and we think it is absolutely vital that this negotiation protects not just our likenesses, but makes sure we are well compensated when any of our work is used to train AI.”

In a press conference, Crabtree-Ireland claimed that studios want to use AI to replace the labour of actors. Allegedly, the studios want to pay extras for one day of work where they will have their likeness scanned to be used by studios in perpetuity, without residual or royalty compensations.

According to Variety, negotiations also stalled on residuals, pay increases, pension contributions, and streaming revenue share. While there were already agreements regarding these issues, many have not been adjusted for the rising cost of living or inflation. When Drescher called the strike on July 13, she said in a viral speech to the press:

“What happens here is important because what’s happening to us is happening across all fields of labor, when employers make Wall Street and greed their priority and they forget about the essential contributors that make the machine run.”

She continued, “I cannot believe it, quite frankly, how far apart we are on so many things. How they plead poverty, that they’re losing money left and right when giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs. It is disgusting. Shame on them. They stand on the wrong side of history.”

Aren’t Actors Rich? 

Only a select few! While SAG-AFTRA’s 160,000 members includes your Meryl Streeps and Margot Robbies, it also includes every other level of actor down to the extras.

To qualify for the union’s health insurance, members must earn a minimum salary of $26, 470. According to Shaan Sharma, an actor and SAG-AFTRA board member, only 12.7 percent of members have qualified for that benefit over the last three years.

Also, residuals and royalties aren’t as great as they sound. Many popular and working actors have taken to social media to show their residual and royalty cheques, most of which barely go into double figures. The Princess Diaries actor Heather Matarazzo shared screenshots of her latest residual earnings which amounted to less than 50 cents.

The cast of Orange Is The New Black have also opened up about how streaming models cheated them out of residuals. In a TikTok, actor Kimiko Glenn revealed her royalty statement from SAG-AFTRA for Orange is the New Black that totalled $27.50. “My tits live on in perpetuity,” she added in a second TikTok, “I deserved to be paid for as many fucking streams as that shit gets”.

Actors Amanda Seales and Leslie Jones also took to TikTok to explain how long it took them to achieve financial stability as actors in the industry. For Seales, acting didn’t afford her stability until her mid-30s, despite it being her primary job since she was a child. “This is because the industry is not made for actors, it’s not made for crew, it’s not made for creatives — the industry is made for the industry,” she said in a viral TikTok.

Australian actor Luke Cook has had recurring roles in Dynasty, The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, Dollface, and Katy Keene. All of these shows are with major streaming and production studios, including Netflix. However, as he said TikTok, he is one of many actors who still have to have side hustles — in his case, teaching fitness classes.

Meanwhile, Netflix CEOs Ted Sarandos and Greg Peters made $50 million and $28 million, respectively, in 2022, according to a company filing. There’s something incredibly wrong with a system in which the majority of labourers can barely live off the earnings of their labour, while the companies who sell their products live like kings.

Ultimately, the strike isn’t about the A-List celebrities, who are obviously doing just fine. It’s about the working actors who make their work possible. For every actor that earns five figures, there are a hundred who don’t earn enough for health insurance. The strike is about getting them a fair wage.

What Does A Strike Actually Mean?

For the foreseeable future, actors and writers have stopped work. Members of the WGA are prohibited from doing any work for the studios in the AMPTP until a new MBA is negotiated.

This means that actors and writers can’t work on any current or new projects for the major studios, nor can they promote those projects on social media. Any non-union members who accept work from the studios during the strike will be blacklisted from future membership. Full strike rules for the WGA and SAG-AFTRA are on their websites.

It also means that actors and writers who are members of the Guilds will not be attending award shows. What will the Emmys look like without actors and writers? If the big studios don’t pay the striking creatives what they’re worth soon, we’ll find out.

The double strike will also mean delays for all upcoming film and TV shows from major studios and streamers.

How Can I Support The Shows I Love? 

Neither the WGA or SAG-AFTRA have called for a boycott of streaming services or studio releases yet. But if you want to support the people who make the content  you enjoy while they’re striking, there are three ways you can do it.

Firstly, stay up to date with strike news by following the unions as well as members of the unions. It’s best to go straight to the source by following SAG-AFTRA and WGA unions on their official social media. Here’s SAG-AFTRA’s and here is the WGA’s.

For helpful breakdowns of the updates, as well as thorough debunking of disinformation, TikTok users who are WGA and SAG-AFTRA have been regularly updating their followers. Check out Adam Conover for updates from the picket lines, Franchesca Ramsay for videos debunking strike myths, and Clara Sterling for daily piping hot strike tea.

Speaking of TikTokers, if you’re an influencer or online content creator, SAG-AFTRA has requested for content creators not to take promo work from major studios — especially if it’s work that would normally be done by actors.

If you have some spare change, you can send it through to: the Entertainment Community Fund who provides financial assistance to across the entertainment industry, The Snacklist who are providing food to people on the picket lines, and Groceries for Writers.

Studio executives told Deadline they’re hoping to wait until actors and writers “go broke” to go back to negotiations, so your faves will need all the support they can get.

How Long Will The SAG-AFTRA Strikes Last? 

The last major Hollywood strike was was in 2007 and lasted 100 days. At the time of writing, the WGA will soon enter their 81st day of striking. For the actors, this is their first full week on the pickets.

It’s hard to know how long the strikes will last — ultimately, it’s not up to the strikers, but their employers to come through with a fair deal. Judging from the studio executives’ comments in Deadline above, the AMPTP has no intention of returning to negotiations for months yet.

Well, that’s a wrap! Actors and writers have come together for a historic double strike. Creatives aren’t just fighting for a sustainable wage, but for autonomy over their work, and a fair workplace that doesn’t exploit them and their time.

We’re witnessing a moment that could change the way movies and TV are made for good, so strap in — we could be here a while.

Image Credit: Ted Soqui, AAP