The Screen Actors Guild — the union representing tens of thousands of Hollywood performers — voted Thursday to strike after negotiations with film and TV studios fell apart.
“The strike will begin at midnight tonight, and all of us — union members, leadership and staff — will be out on the picket lines tomorrow morning,” the union’s chief negotiator, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, said after the vote.
The guild, known as SAG-AFTRA, had agreed to extend talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) two weeks past their contract expiration date of June 30. But the two sides failed to reach an agreement in that time, even after federal mediators joined discussions, and the union’s negotiating committee unanimously recommended a strike to its national board early Thursday. The national board agreed hours later.
Fran Drescher, SAG-AFTRA president and iconic star of the ’90s sitcom “The Nanny,” slammed studio bosses for the attitudes they displayed at the bargaining table.
“I am shocked by the way the people that we have been in business with are treating us,” Drescher said in a brief, impassioned speech. “I cannot believe it, quite frankly, 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,” she added. “Shame on them.”
Drescher tied the SAG-AFTRA strike to the broader labor movement amid threats from emerging technologies like artificial intelligence.
“If we don’t stand tall right now, we are all going to be in trouble,” she said. “We are all going to be in jeopardy of being replaced by machines, and big business who cares more about Wall Street than you and your family.”
The strike will effectively grind Hollywood to a halt, at least temporarily.
On Monday, SAG-AFTRA leadership assembled around 140 top publicists for a conference call to brace them for what was then seen as a likely strike, according to Variety. One person described the vibes as “panicked.” The stars of summer blockbusters like “Oppenheimer,” “Barbie” and the new “Mission Impossible” installation will be pulled from red carpets and press junkets, Crabtree-Ireland said. Members affected by the strike will not be allowed to film any ongoing projects or promote finished ones.
The performers will join Writers Guild of America (WGA) members, who have been on strike since early May after their negotiations with the AMPTP similarly stalled out.
The trade group AMPTP represents major studios, including Disney, Netflix, Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner Bros. Some 160,000 performers are part of SAG-AFTRA, including big Hollywood names, making entry into the card-holders’ club a major stepping stone for aspiring stars.
The WGA and SAG-AFTRA have not been on strike at the same time since the 1960s, when they won health care plans, pensions and residual payments. Both now say they face an existential threat from technology that bosses could try to use to replace them; they also share concerns about declining residuals that once bolstered their income.
The AMPTP put what it termed a “groundbreaking AI proposal” across the bargaining table on Wednesday that would allow studios to digitally scan background actors so they only had to pay them for one day of work, according to Crabtree-Ireland. The company would then own that actor’s image in perpetuity and could do whatever they wanted with it without compensating the worker, he said. (The AMPTP said in a statement condemning the strike that the proposal would “protect actors’ digital likenesses for SAG-AFTRA members.”)
Crabtree-Ireland told reporters that a group of CEOs told them Wednesday night that they were not behaving in “a civilized manner” by threatening to strike.
“We told them that it’s not uncivilized to go on strike. It’s a moral right, it’s a human right and it’s a legal right,” he said.
Commentary from studio executives this week appears to have only tangled the path to any agreements with the unions. One executive bluntly told Deadline that the studios’ goal was to “break the WGA” by refusing to negotiate in good faith for several months.
“The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses,” an executive told Deadline, which noted other top bosses felt the same.
Disney CEO Bob Iger also incensed union members and their allies by saying the writers and performers were not being “realistic.”
“It’s very disturbing to me,” he said during a Thursday morning appearance on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”
As Drescher put it: “Eventually, the people break down the gates of Versailles.”