Almost two months after the Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike on May 2, the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) might join them on the picket lines. At midnight on June 30, the union’s contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) — the organization officially responsible for representing the entertainment industry’s corporations in labor negotiations — expires.

The letter (reprinted below in full), signed by the likes of Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Rami Malek, Mark Ruffalo, and Meryl Streep, quite clearly shows that the SAG-AFTRA rank-and-file know the score:

“Our wages, our craft, our creative freedom, and the power of our union have all been undermined in the last decade. We need to reverse those trajectories … This is not a moment to meet in the middle.”

Since the 1980s, what little labor action the United States has seen has almost always been about keeping things from getting worse (or even just too much worse). Over the last 15 years, workers — at Starbucks and Amazon, in SAG-AFTRA and WGA, in living-wage and Leftist political campaigns — have started refusing to accept such a constantly lowering bar.

SAG-AFTRA Negotiations, Strike Authorization

Entertainment industry unions SAG-AFTRA WGA DGA IATSE Teamsters

“A strike brings incredible hardships to so many.”

Nonetheless, earlier this month, 97.9% of SAG-AFTRA members voted to go on strike if the contract negotiations fail — the same percentage as the authorization vote that led to the ongoing WGA strike. As the letter goes on to point out, the SAG-AFTRA leadership can “use the power given to you by us, the membership, and join the WGA on the picket lines.”

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Of course, the letter points it out precisely because it’s concerned that the leadership won’t. The first serious point the letter makes is: “We are concerned by the idea that SAG-AFTRA members may be ready to make sacrifices that leadership is not.” There hasn’t been any substantial news coming out of the negotiations process; like the Directors Guild of America (DGA), but unlike the WGA, SAG-AFTRA leaders agreed to a media blackout (i.e. they and the AMPTP will keep all the negotiation details secret during the negotiations). The only report has been SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher describing the negotiations as being “extremely productive”.

Which was extremely concerning to the rank-and-file as, earlier — one week into the WGA strike — Drescher incorrectly described the concerns of writers and actors as “very different”. Misuse of AI and securing “a seismic realignment of our minimum pay and new media residuals” are just two similarities listed by the letter.

WGA Writers Strike 2023

“We want you to know that we would rather go on strike than compromise on these fundamental points.”

Plus, dividing workers is the literal opposite of what a union is supposed to do. But still, even if SAG-AFTRA doesn’t go on strike alongside the WGA, its rank-and-file will clearly and publicly be with them in spirit and solidarity.


Full Text of the Letter

Dear SAG-AFTRA Leadership and Negotiating Committee, 

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Thank you for your hard work and your leadership navigating through this difficult negotiation in a truly unprecedented time. As SAG-AFTRA members, we’ve been impressed over the last few months by how our leadership outlined the unique stakes of the negotiations and the need for a realignment in our industry. We were glad to see SAG-AFTRA lead the way among the guilds in identifying AI as a threat to our livelihoods that must be addressed right now, a “game changer.” We felt as though you understood how wildly our pay and our residuals have been undermined, how long we’re being held between seasons. We’ve been filled with pride watching the union come together and deliver such an incredibly strong strike authorization vote.

But solidarity demands honesty, and we need to make clear our resolve. A strike brings incredible hardships to so many, and no one wants it. But we are prepared to strike if it comes to that. And we are concerned by the idea that SAG-AFTRA members may be ready to make sacrifices that leadership is not. We hope you’ve heard the message from us. This is an unprecedented inflection point in our industry, and what might be considered a good deal in any other years is simply not enough. We feel that our wages, our craft, our creative freedom, and the power of our union have all been undermined in the last decade. We need to reverse those trajectories. With inflation and continued growth in streaming, we need a seismic realignment of our minimum pay and new media residuals, our exclusivity carveouts, and other terms. We also think it’s absolutely vital that the deal restore dignity to the casting process by regulating how self-tapes are used. This is an enormous problem for working class actors. And especially as regards Artificial Intelligence, we do not believe that SAG-AFTRA members can afford to make halfway gains in anticipation of that more will be coming in three years, and we think it is absolutely vital that this negotiation protects not just our likenesses, but makes sure we are well compensated when any of our work is used to train AI. We want you to know that we would rather go on strike than compromise on these fundamental points, and we believe that, if we settle for a less than transformative deal, the future of our union and our craft will be undermined, and SAG-AFTRA will enter the next negotiation with drastically reduced leverage.

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This is not a moment to meet in the middle, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that the eyes of history are on all of us. We ask that you push for all the change we need and protections we deserve and make history doing it. If you are not able to get all the way there, we ask that you use the power given to you by us, the membership, and join the WGA on the picket lines. For our union and its future, this is our moment. We hope that, on our behalf, you will meet that moment and not miss it.

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