Hollywood Actors Reach breaking Point as Contract Negotiations Falter
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Hollywood Actors Reach breaking Point as Contract Negotiations Falter

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The labor conflict engulfing the film and TV industry is on the brink of intensifying as the union representing Hollywood actors prepares to strike, joining the writers on the picket lines. This would mark the first instance of back-to-back walkouts since 1960, further escalating the labor dispute that has sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry.

Despite the intervention of a federal mediator brought in at the eleventh hour to facilitate a resolution, the two sides failed to reach a new film and TV contract before the Wednesday night deadline.

An overwhelming 98% of the union’s members had previously authorized their leaders to call for a strike if a new contract could not be secured to replace the one that expired on June 30.

SAG-AFTRA leaders announced that the guild’s negotiating committee had voted unanimously to recommend a strike action to the union’s national board of directors. If approved, the strike could commence as early as Friday, with pickets planned in Los Angeles, New York, and other cities. Tensions escalated on Tuesday when SAG-AFTRA criticized the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) for a last-minute proposal to involve a federal mediator in resolving the labor conflict. The AMPTP made the request for mediator assistance following discussions among prominent Hollywood executives, including Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav. SAG-AFTRA leaders characterized the move as a “cynical ploy,” expressing their displeasure at not being informed of the mediator proposal until it was leaked to a trade publication.

With the federal mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service only joining the negotiations on Wednesday, there is little optimism that the conflict will be resolved before the midnight deadline. SAG-AFTRA affirmed their commitment to negotiating in good faith and striving for a fair and equitable agreement despite the expiration of their contract. They emphasized their readiness to explore every possible avenue for reaching a deal. However, doubts persist regarding the employers’ intentions to engage in meaningful bargaining.

Should the actors proceed with a strike, it would create a fresh crisis for Hollywood, which is already reeling from the ongoing writers’ strike that began on May 2. A simultaneous walkout by actors and writers would bring scripted production activities to a standstill and have far-reaching consequences for planned movies and TV shows. The fall TV season, featuring new shows and existing series already delayed by the writers’ strike, hangs in the balance. The extended production shutdowns and uncertainty would also deal a significant blow to the Southern California economy, affecting thousands of crew members and the small businesses dependent on the region’s thriving entertainment sector.

Negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP, representing the major studios, commenced on June 7 and were extended until July 12 to allow for further bargaining. While guild leaders indicated progress, sources familiar with the negotiations, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed that the two sides remained far apart on key issues. Actors, like writers, contend that they have been negatively impacted by the streaming revolution and are seeking improved residual payments for shows distributed on platforms such as Netflix. One contentious issue centers around SAG-AFTRA’s demand for a significant increase in residual payments from streaming platforms to better reflect show success and payment calculations. Studios have objected to involving a third-party firm to estimate viewership and argue that many streaming platforms are not yet profitable.

In addition to addressing residual payments, actors are also seeking higher wages to counter inflation, improvements to the union’s health and pension plan, and safeguards regarding the use of artificial intelligence (AI), an issue of increasing concern for performers. SAG-AFTRA has also voiced concerns about the growing prevalence of time-consuming and costly self-tape auditions.

The last time actors went on strike over their film and TV contract was in 1980 when the union sought a larger share of profits from the emerging home video market. In 2000, SAG members staged a six-month strike focused on a fee system for commercials. This impending strike would be the first for SAG-AFTRA, which was formed in 2012 through the merger of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Negotiations between the AMPTP and the writers’ union have yet to resume. While the AMPTP reached an agreement with the Directors Guild of America in June, securing pay increases, a new residual based on international subscriptions to streaming platforms, and limitations on AI usage, representatives of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and SAG-AFTRA have stated that the contract falls short of addressing their concerns and that they are not bound by another union’s terms.

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