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As the Writers Guild of America enters the 23rd day of its strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists are voting to authorize a potential strike. According to the SAG-AFTRA website, the move prepares the union “to fight if management will not address our concerns.”
SAG-AFTRA’s current contract with the AMPTP expires on June 30, and ballots from actors must be returned by June 5.
“I voted yes for a strike authorization,” SAG-AFTRA member and voice actor Aaron LaPlante. “I want [artificial intelligence] to be addressed. I want it to be broken down so that everyone who enjoys the shows we make knows what they are trying to do. AI replacing human efforts is not just a sci-fi Hollywood thing. It will affect every aspect of human life. Also, they should pay us what we deserve. But that’s always the case.”
AI has become a central discussion point in the strike conversation. In the WGA negotiations, the AMPTP was not willing to put specific language in the WGA contract that would prevent studios from using AI to write scripted material. Actors are concerned that AI might replace their jobs one day, as well.
“We’ve seen a lot of actors join us on the picket lines, so we know we have their support … and from stories they tell, it’s clear they’ve been feeling the same strains as writers when it comes to streaming residuals, and the effects of shorter seasons,” WGA captain Rob Forman said. “They also have an AI issue to deal with, which is the idea that a company could alter their performance or have the rights to their voice and likeness in perpetuity, only as generated by a machine.”
“If we don’t get wording in our contracts about AI now, then by the time we come to negotiate again, it’ll be too late,” SAG-AFTRA member Emily Redenbach said. “We’re already behind in residuals for streaming and the AMPTP is refusing to give the WGA even 2% of their profits. We can’t let them get used to not sharing.”
LaPlante said that SAG-AFTRA and WGA are in lockstep when it comes to goals.
“We are always aligned. It is us against them. We make them rich, and they try to stay rich. It’s just like every other industry,” he said.
The last strike authorized by SAG-AFTRA, which until 2012 was two separate entities, was the near-six-month commercial actors strike in 2000. The last full actors strike lasted just 14 hours in 1986. The last WGA strike in 2007-2008 lasted 100 days and severely impacted the production pipeline.
Additionally, the Director’s Guild of America’s contract with the AMPTP expires on June 30, as well, though that guild has been tight-lipped on its negotiations.
“This is all going to come to a head very quickly,” WGA member Adam Morrison said. “Hopefully these heads of studios and streaming apps realize that the entire entertainment community … [is] behind the writers.”
Already a number of productions have either been halted or altered by the writers’ strike, with many cast and crew members unwilling to cross picket lines to work, even with some unscripted series. Earlier this month, Mayim Bialik announced she would not host “Jeopardy!” during the strike. Other productions have negotiated work-arounds to complete episodes already scripted, and live broadcasts like the Tony Awards, scheduled for June 11, have brokered deals with the WGA to continue.
“No one likes that we are on strike, but there are daily reminders from the companies that what we are doing is right,” Forman said. “It’s been so heartening to see such support not just from other unions, but the Los Angeles community and really the country at large. Everyone understands what it is to be asked to do more, for less.”
The WGA has organized themed strike days outside the major studios in Hollywood, including a day honoring trans artists outside Netflix headquarters and a “Star Trek” day outside Paramount Studios that was attended by U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank).
“I got to meet him as he walked the picket line solidarity with the writers,” Morrison said. “It is really moving to have such high-profile folks join us.”
“We’re in a new era of streaming, and it’s imperative workers are compensated and treated fairly,” Schiff said.
A number of prominent actors and writers have joined the picket lines thus far, including SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher, Wanda Sykes, Rob Lowe, Amy Schumer, Tina Fey and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
In a nod to how long the strike, and potential strikes, might last, ABC unveiled a fall schedule that includes no new scripted series, though several scripted series were still renewed and anticipated for mid-season premieres. LaPlante said that the unions are not going to cave to pressure from the AMPTP.
“I think they will find out that we aren’t desperate,” he said. “We can wait longer than they can. We’re just trying to do our work and pay for basic necessities. We don’t need to appeal to shareholders. We love what we do, and we will fight to be able to keep doing it to the bitter end. Nepotism only makes up a small percent of people in the entertainment business. It’s mostly populated by intelligent and resourceful artists who endured a lot of hardship and uncertainty to get where they are now. We can deal with plenty more.”
Forman said he does not anticipate the strike ending anytime soon, though he hopes the upcoming expiration dates for the SAG-AFTRA and DGA contracts will put pressure on the AMPTP.
“I hope they are both able to get contracts that address their concerns in areas that the AMPTP refused to negotiate with us on, but it really does seem like the fastest way to end our strike is if either/both of those unions’ talks break down, too, forcing the companies to really reckon with how much they’ve broken the business models in this industry, and how they have to come to the table and actually address them,” Forman said. “Again, it’s a strange thing to say, because, like I said no one wants to be on strike, but we simply have to be due to corporate intransigence.”
The AMPTP declined to comment. A representative for the DGA said the organization is in a “media blackout” regarding negotiations and had no comment at this time. SAG-AFTRA and WGA did not respond to a request for comment.
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