By Alyssa Cortes
On July 14, 2023, the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) initiated a strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) companies. This move came after contract renegotiations failed, as the union fought for the protection and interests of its members.
“There was a callousness with the way they talked about young people, the way they talked about the background community, the way they talked about us as labor.” said Sean Astin, SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee member.
SAG-AFTRA is a union representing over 160,000 individuals including television and film actors, stunt performers, voiceover artists and other media workers. The union has a long history of advocating for its members, striking eight times since its creation in 1933.
The current strike distinguishes itself as an unprecedented event. Notably, it marks the first time since 1960 that both the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and SAG-AFTRA are on strike simultaneously.
On May 2, 2023, the WGA went on strike aiming to negotiate with producers and executives for higher pay, fairer contracts and over seeing any usage of artificial intelligence. The WGA represents a membership of over 11,000 writers working in various media sectors, including film, online content, news, radio and television. This has resulted in the halt of numerous productions i.e., the “Avatar” films, “Euphoria” season three, award ceremonies and much more.
The strike has led to a massive outreach beyond the streets of Hollywood from news productions, social media, and large production cities such as Atlanta and New York. The strike was met with supportive outreach from non-WAG members all over social platforms.
SAG-AFTRA’s previous contract no longer works with the current dynamics in the entertainment industry. The core focus of the strike revolves around protection for its members in the newfound era of streaming and digital, which was significantly impacted by the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The union asked for the establishment of residuals for streaming, improved working conditions including higher pay, protection against potential job displacement due to artificial intelligence (A.I.) and commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion. Currently, numerous actors are either receiving exceedingly meager residual payments or none whatsoever.
“Picketing today at Paramount…where for 20 years Ned’s has been sold all over the world, and I’ve never seen one residual or royalty from it due to bad deal at the time,” said Devon Werkheiser, SAG-AFTRA member and star of Nickelodeon’s “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide”.
During their renegotiations, SAG-AFTRA proposed a pay raise, addressing that a significant portion of union members fail to meet the $26,740 requirement for health insurance eligibility. Furthermore, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) sought the union’s consent to conduct background performer scans for a fixed, one-time fee of $200 and to retain perpetual rights to their images.
“A.I. may take over manufacturing and safeguarding data, but the aspects of human emotion used in movies/plays and tv series cannot be simply handed over to A.I.,” said Thehara Perera, freshman at The University of Tampa.
In the face of evolving challenges, the SAG-AFTRA strike also highlights the need for ongoing dialogue and collaboration between unions, production companies and the public.
“It is important for audiences to be aware of the specifics so they can understand the hardship these workers have been through to make ends meet while reaching deadlines,” said Olivia Torres, junior at UT.
Anyone who is interested in supporting the SAG-AFTRA strike can utilize social media to express support, contribute to the Entertainment Community Fund to aid crew members facing unemployment or actively participate in picket lines or rallies alongside union members.