Labor Day is more than a long weekend of beaches, barbecues and block parties. It’s a national celebration marking the economic and social contributions of American workers. How ironic, then, that SAG-AFTRA members are observing this 141st Labor Day on strike against a global industry that refuses to fairly recognize the contributions of the workers who power its economic success.
When our contract expired July 12, we told representatives for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (which includes the major studios and streamers like Amazon, Apple TV, Disney, Fox, Netflix, NBCUniversal, Paramount Global, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Warner Bros. Discovery and others) that we were willing to continue negotiating. The response was a hard “no.” The AMPTP went even further and told us it would be “quite some time before they would be ready to talk” with us again. It has indeed been quite some time. More than 52 days later, we are still ready and willing to negotiate a fair deal, but we have not heard a word from the AMPTP.
The AMPTP’s intransigence and silence is irrational. The only way a strike is resolved is through the parties talking. Their refusal to even talk with us seems like a deliberate effort to prolong the strike and inflict maximum pain. Some economists are estimating approximately $5 billion in economic losses as a result. Or, perhaps their endgame is, as one anonymous studio executive told a news outlet, to let the strike “drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses.”
If this is the play, it has failed. Rather than fatigue, they find our members’ innate resilience, unity, and solidarity.
Each day, with each word and each new crisis public relations advisor, this massive billion-dollar industry ensures its own ultimate defeat. Actors know they are in the fight of their professional lives to preserve a sustainable career and we will not weaken or waver because that fight is righteous. We must secure what the professionals in our industry deserve: economic fairness and a sustainable and dignified career.
That means minimum increases to keep up with inflation, addressing the current streaming model, which undercuts residual income and ignores the contributions of our members in the most successful productions. Performers deserve compensation that reflects the value they bring to streamers that profit from their labor. And, any agreement we reach must also include protections of performers’ images, voices, and performances against artificial intelligence technologies. We’ve created a comprehensive set of provisions to grant informed consent and fair compensation when a “digital replica” is made or our performance is changed using AI.
We called this strike – which was authorized with approval from 98% of our members – knowing we had done everything in our power to avoid it, but the AMPTP refused to negotiate fairly. Companies represented by the AMPTP have made clear that their priority is additional billions in profits and ever more stratospheric CEO salaries. While middle-class actors struggle to make ends meet, studio profits reach all time highs, lining the pockets of executives.
The entertainment industry cannot survive without the creative talent that fuels its bottom line. We continue to call on the AMPTP and the executives they negotiate for to recognize what actors, writers, and all other entertainment professionals deserve – and what our industry needs to survive: an agreement that provides fair compensation, revenue sharing on top of residuals and guardrails around AI technology.
Our strike is the catalyst for a historic culture change, but it’s not just about performers. We have been on the picket lines side-by-side with the Writers Guild since their strike began May 2. Their righteous fight and powerful solidarity helps strengthen our own commitment. We have been joined on the lines by members and leaders of the AFL-CIO, American Federation of Musicians, Directors Guild of America, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Laborers International Union of North America, Producers Guild of America, Teamsters, and the basic crafts. All of American labor has joined our fight. And we are proud to stand with them during this critical moment for entertainment labor and the global union movement.
In truth, most Americans are also on our side. In poll after poll, the number of Americans siding with writers and actors far outpaces those who side with the conglomerates. It is an existential fight for our members, but it is also a fight that nearly every American can understand. The battle for equity and fairness on the job is universal.
We are taking the day off from our picket lines in honor of Labor Day, but we are still there in spirit, and we will be back on the lines tomorrow. Deeply committed and proud to continue fighting for actors, writers and workers across the country, and to recognize what our labor contributes to American achievement. Standing united, we will win.
Duncan Crabtree-Ireland is national executive director and chief negotiator for SAG-AFTRA.
(Pictured: SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher and Duncan Crabtree-Ireland on July 13 as the union initiated its first industry-wide TV and film strike in 43 years.)
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