Actors join writers on strike, shutting down Hollywood film and TV productions

Members of the SAG-AFTRA actors union have joined writers on picket lines in the greater Los Angeles area, marking the first time in 63 years both unions have been on strike at the same time. 

Many Hollywood observers fear the labor impasse could last for months with the unions and production companies far apart on key issues, which could end up costing more than $3 billion.

Dozens of production have been shuttered including the highly anticipated "Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part Two" starring Tom Cruise, the Clint Eastwood directed "Juror #2" and "Gladiator 2" co-starring Denzel Washington and Pedro Pascal. On the TV side, "1923" co-starring Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren, HBO's "Pretty Little Liars: Summer School" and the long-running Showtime series "Billions" have stopped production.

In addition, the Daytime Emmy Awards, which were originally set for June 17, have been postponed until the labor disputes have been resolved. 

Primetime Emmy nominees were announced Wednesday, but actors represented by the striking  SAG-AFTRA union will be prevented from campaigning for support. 

Members of SAG-AFTRA set up picket lines in front of Hollywood's major studios at 9 a.m. Friday, including Warner Bros. and Disney in Burbank, Amazon and Sony in Culver City, Paramount and Netflix in Hollywood and Fox in West Los Angeles.

“We're in it for the long haul,'' SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher told reporters Friday morning on the picket line when asked about the possibility of a drawn-out labor impasse. ``... This is not something that's going to go away quickly unless they (the studios) come to the table and come to their senses. Unless somebody has the character and the courage to walk into that board room and say, `These are the people that make our business. They are the center of the wheel. If we don't make them happy, what are we doing? They have to be happy. They're the performers. We should honor and respect them for their massive contribution to this industry.'''

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On Thursday, the union's National Board voted unanimously to issue a strike order -- leading Drescher to angrily denounce the major studios as "a very greedy entity," while the studios' bargaining arm countered that it had offered ``historic'' benefit boosts.

The strike order took effect at midnight Thursday, and starting Friday morning, SAG-AFTRA joined picket lines with the Writers Guild of America, which is in the 11th week of its own walkout against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

The AMPTP represents studios, networks and streaming services. The actors union represents about 160,000 performers. 

Thursday's strike announcement -- made jointly by Drescher and union National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland -- follows the midnight Wednesday expiration of the union's contract with the AMPTP, and the breakdown of talks.

“It came with great sadness that we came to this crossroads,” Drescher said during a Thursday news conference at SAG-AFTRA headquarters. 

“But we had no choice. We are the victims here. We are being victimized by a very greedy entity. I am shocked by the way the people that we have been in business with are treating us. I cannot believe it, quite frankly, how far apart we are on so many things.

“How they plead poverty, that they're losing money left and right, when giving hundreds of millions of dollars to the CEOs. It is disgusting. Shame on them. They stand on the wrong side of history at this very moment.''

Drescher went on to say, that "at some point, the jig is up -- you cannot keep being dwindled and marginalized and disrespected and dishonored."

On the now-ended negotiations, Drescher said, "There was nothing there. It was insulting. ... You cannot change the business model as much as it has changed and not expect the contract to change too."

Following the union's strike announcement, the AMPTP on Thursday issued a statement saying, ``AMPTP member companies entered the negotiations with SAG-AFTRA with the goal of forging a new, mutually beneficial contract.”

The statement went on to say, "The AMPTP presented a deal that offered historic pay and residual increases, substantially higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, and a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors' digital likenesses for SAG-AFTRA members.

“A strike is certainly not the outcome we hoped for as studios cannot operate without the performers that bring our TV shows and films to life. The Union has regrettably chosen a path that will lead to financial hardship for countless thousands of people who depend on the industry.”

There was no word on whether any new negotiations were planned. SAG- AFTRA officials told reporters Thursday morning that they were ready to resume the bargaining process, but said the studios were not willing to do so. 

The double-barreled SAG-AFTRA/WGA walkout marks the first time since 1960 that both unions have struck Hollywood at the same time. 

The WGA sent an email to its members shortly after the SAG-AFTRA strike declaration, saying, ``We stand solidly behind our union siblings in SAG-AFTRA as they begin their work stoppage.''

“The AMPTP has proven unwilling to meet the justifiable demands of actors and writers at the bargaining table in 2023,'' the WGA statement to its members said. "... SAG-AFTRA has supported the WGA from the start of our negotiations, joining our picket lines and rallies across the country every day writers have been on strike. We pledge to fully support SAG-AFTRA as they strike to get the contract they deserve.''

Thursday's developments followed a flurry of 11th-hour activity on Tuesday, with SAG-AFTRA announcing it had agreed to a ``last-minute request'' by the AMPTP for federal mediation. But the union refused to again extend its existing labor contract past the 11:59 p.m. Wednesday negotiating deadline. 

Disney CEO Bob Iger made news on Thursday during an interview with CNBC, saying strikers' expectations are "not realistic."

“We managed as an industry to negotiate a very good deal with the Directors Guild that reflects the value that the directors contribute to this great business,'' Iger said. "We wanted to do the same thing with the writers, and we'd like to do the same thing with the actors."

But, he added, ``there's a level of expectation that they have that is just not realistic, and they are adding to a set of challenges that this business is already facing that is, quite frankly, very disruptive.”

Union leaders countered that those statements were off-base, noting the massive salaries of studio executives like Iger while many actors and writers struggle to live and pay their bills.

SAG-AFTRA's contract was initially set to expire on June 30, but the union and the AMPTP agreed to an extension so they could continue talks. The actors union represents about 160,000 performers. 

The actors' union is focusing on many of the same issues that pushed the WGA to call a strike on May 2, including calls for revised residual formulas for streaming content and protections against the use of artificial intelligence in film and TV production.

The actors union has not gone on strike since 1980. The WGA went out on strike for 100 days starting in 2007. 

Negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP began on June 7.    

The AMPTP has already reached a three-year contract deal with the Directors Guild of America. The pact was overwhelmingly ratified by DGA members on June 24.

The DGA-AMPTP deal includes a 12.5% salary increase over a three-year period for directors, plus a ``substantial'' increase in residuals for streaming content -- including a 76% increase in foreign residuals for the largest platforms and mutual confirmation that artificial intelligence is not a person and cannot replace the duties performed by DGA members.

That deal came after less than a month of negotiations, ahead of the June 30 expiration of the DGA's previous contract.

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