It’s Official: STRIKE for SAG-AFTRA

It’s Official: STRIKE for SAG-AFTRA

No this isn’t about A League of Their Own except that it kind of is.

As of Thursday, July 13, 2023, the SAG-AFTRA union has called a general strike. Beginning one minute after midnight tonight, they will be on strike and joining the picket lines.

SAG-AFTRA negotiated in good faith and was eager to reach a deal that sufficiently addressed performer needs, but the AMPTP’s responses to the union’s most important proposals have been insulting and disrespectful of our massive contributions to this industry. The companies have refused to meaningfully engage on some topics and on others completely stonewalled us. Until they do negotiate in good faith, we cannot begin to reach a deal. We have no choice but to move forward in unity, and on behalf of our membership, with a strike recommendation to our National Board. The board will discuss the issue this morning and will make its decision.

SAG President Fran Drescher

Yes, that Fran Drescher.

I was born in the 1970s, so I was not yet a gleam in my parent’s eyes the last time the writers and actors struck at the same time (1960). I was around for the last actors strike (1980) and very much the last few writer’s strikes (1981, 1988, 2007-2008, 2023).

I’ve already talked a little about what’s going on and why, but as it happens some of the stakes have changed.

Award Winning Invisibility

Did you know that Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies is up for an Emmy? Two actually! Makes you kind of want to watch it, right?

Well, you can’t.

That’s right, Paramount removed an Emmy nominated show from streaming. It hasn’t even been a month since the finale, and if you missed it, it’s just gone. And while at first we all might think it’s just a money perspective, it’s actually an intentionally evil money related move.

Don’t believe me?

“The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses,” a studio executive told Deadline. Acknowledging the cold-as-ice approach, several other sources reiterated the statement. One insider called it “a cruel but necessary evil.”

Hollywood Studios’ WGA Strike Endgame Is To Let Writers Go Broke Before Resuming Talks In Fall by Dominic Patten

What’s the fastest way to break the banks for union members? You don’t pay them for their creations. How do you do that? You remove the shows.

That’s right. The removal of shows isn’t just greedy networks trying not to pay taxes, they are actively and vindictively doing it to hurt writers. They want to break the unions by making them literally broke.

When I read that (via Paul Mather, who wrote my wife’s favourite random show, Little Mosque, but also a number of cult favs out there), I was appalled. It was bad enough that all creators risked loosing their work without even a clip reel now that everything’s digital and no one gets copies (DMCA actually prevents a lot of creators from making their own clips off of their own DVDs in the first place). Now though, we can see the ultimate plan of the studios is to just remove everything, give the writers nothing, and pivot to … I guess Reality TV.

Knowing all that means that this statement by AMPTP (the studio’s association) rings false:

We are deeply disappointed that SAG-AFTRA has decided to walk away from negotiations. This is the Union’s choice, not ours. In doing so, it has dismissed our offer of historic pay and residual increases, substantially higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors’ digital likenesses, and more. Rather than continuing to negotiate, SAG-AFTRA has put us on a course that will deepen the financial hardship for thousands who depend on the industry for their livelihoods.

SAG-AFTRA Officially Calls Strike As National Board Approves Guild’s First Walkout Against Film & TV Industry Since 1980 by David Robb and Dominic Patten

Their goal is to cause financial hardship. If it wasn’t, why wouldn’t they be making decisions to strengthen the finances of their actors and writers?

What Do They Want?

There is some overlap of what SAG-AFTRA and the WGA want

Residuals for streaming content, based on viewership
AI Regulations (no script writing and no reuse of likeness)

In Person AuditionsN/A
Writers RoomsN/A

The writer’s room is a little interesting in that it has two parts:

  1. No more ‘mini rooms’ — they prevent new writers from breaking in, and lock existing writers into where they are. Collaboration is key!
  2. Longer contracts — they don’t want writing to be a ‘gig economy’ job.

As a viewer and TV fan, those both make perfect sense to me! You know how much we detest shows that have no consistency about writing? Those points would help limit those from happening! If the writers work together, then they can make a show keep it’s linear sense.

As for the in-person auditions, while sending in a tape is ‘easier’ you have to remember that the vast majority of applicants for a role will not get the job. But. If they go in, in person, and talk to the directors and producers, then they have created a relationship with them. That will mean casting directors know their name and might think about them for future work. It’s basically the biggest contributor to how unknown actors can break-in to the business (if they aren’t related to existing well known people in the biz).

Now the studios (remember AMPTP is not a union) … Well they don’t want any of the above. Tech based companies (eg. Netflix) do not want to touch residuals based on viewership, because they would then be required to release viewing numbers. They don’t do that now, probably because if they did, we would all know that their business is not as successful as they’ve led folks to believe. And by ‘folks’ I mean ‘investors.’

As for AI, basically the studios see AI as an opportunity to remove the labor and costs of having to, you know, hire human beings. Which means exactly what you’re thinking.

Is it Really That Bad?


In December, 2020, in the depths of pandemic winter, the actress Kimiko Glenn got a foreign-royalty statement in the mail from the screen actors’ union, sag-aftra. Glenn is best known for playing the motormouthed, idealistic inmate Brook Soso on the women’s-prison series “Orange Is the New Black,” which ran from 2013 to 2019, on Netflix. The orchid-pink paper listed episodes of the show that she’d appeared on (“A Whole Other Hole,” “Trust No Bitch”) alongside tiny amounts of income (four cents, two cents) culled from overseas levies—a thin slice of pie from the show that had thrust her to prominence. “I was, like, Oh, my God, it’s just so sad,” Glenn recalled. With many television and movie sets shuttered, she was supporting herself with voice-over jobs, and she’d been messing around with TikTok. She posted a video in which she scans the statement—“I’m about to be so riiich!”—then reaches the grand total of twenty-seven dollars and thirty cents and shrieks, “WHAT?”

“Orange Is the New Black” Signalled the Rot Inside the Streaming Economy by Michael Schulman

That’s a show that excelled in bringing in traffic to Netflix, and yet for actors getting pennies on the dollar for their work means it’s impossible to survive!

While the SAG minimum rate is $900 a day, and that sounds like a lot (it’s over 3 times what I was making a day as an entry level programmer in the late 1990s), remember a couple things. Like the rest of us, they get taxed too — FICA takes their money. They also don’t get any health insurance from the shows and have to use either SAG-AFTRA’s health insurance (which has eligibility requirements) or something on their own. We all know how bad health insurance is in the US.

Also, unlike someone with an office job, there is no guarantee of how much someone will work. If you’re a recurring actor, then let’s say you’re in 5 episodes. It takes roughly 8 days to film a TV episode, and you would only be in 2 or 3 days max. That’s 40 days, of which 15 days pay, or $13,500 before taxes. However. You can’t get another TV show for the other 25 days. Also most recurring or guest actors are only there for one day, which means $4,500 for the same 40 day span.

How Long Will This Last?

Probably around October/December time frame. That’s a calculated move by AMPTP, who are basing that on the average income of writers, and how long they can go without money. And if they keep pulling shows, that’ll happen a lot quicker. Once the WGA runs out of money, the AMPTP are in a position of power to make a deal that benefits them.

That said, there is one place that AMPTP has leverage now. Each studio can make a side-deal with the union. But the thing there is, it actually favours the SAG-AFTRA and WGA more! An interim deal works like this: The unions make an offer that favours them with one studio. That studio agrees and signs the contract. The union turns around and points out that Studio A is with them and filming now, which pressures the other AMPTP studios into caving in so they don’t lose their competitive advantage.

If the unions can get a couple studios on board, then we have a good chance for them.

Who is Impacted?

I’m going to avoid the joke answer of ‘everyone’ because this is a different thing. Actors and writers don’t only exist in the USA, and SAG-AFTRA is an American union. For Canada, the union is ACTRA, and it’s Equity for the UK. What happens if SAG-AFTRA strikes? Will they follow? Probably not.

Canada’s ACTRA actually settled a deal with AMPTP. There’s no promise that Australian, Canadian, nor UK actors’ unions would support and join this strike. In fact, the strict union laws in the UK actually prevent an extensive show of solidarity from Equity. It’s illegal for Equity to call a strike to support SAG-AFTRA due to those restrictive British legislations.

That doesn’t mean that studios can simply fire the US actors and hire UK ones, though. Besides the fact that they have contracts with individuals and they could sue for breach of contract, non-US unions and guilds are showing solidarity. WGGB (Writer’s Guild of Great Britain) for example has clarified things pertaining to the strike of their US based counterparts, saying “WGGB is advising members not to work on new projects within the jurisdiction of the WGA for the duration of the strike.”

There is some wiggle room, mind you. If the WGGB writer is already working on an existing project, they may stay. However that is only if the contracts are made in the UK. If the contract is from a US based company, then don’t be a scab.

That said, any production that includes a single Hollywood actor is in trouble. After all, the Guild’s Global Rule One is this:

No member shall render any services or make an agreement to perform services for any employer who has not executed a basic minimum agreement with the union, which is in full force and effect, in any jurisdiction in which there is a SAG-AFTRA national collective bargaining agreement in place. This provision applies worldwide.

Worldwide means any SAG-AFTRA related project anyway.

The one exception in the USA are soaps, which have a different contract due to the nature of their work (filming pretty much daily).

How Can You Help?

Note: Right now neither SAG-AFTRA nor WGA have recommended or asked for a boycott.

There aren’t a lot of ways we can help, but one is to cost AMPTP money. That is, if they can’t make money either, they might be encouraged to come to the table for a fair deal.

The easiest way to do this is to cancel any streaming subs. They’re not going to have any new content (or at least not any good new content) from the US for a while. You can probably kill them off for a good 3 months. Right now, the only streamers I kept are UK based but as this goes on, that will change.

We’ve already seen a massive uptick in the cancelations and removals harming the most vulnerable of content — queer and minority led. It’s time to make our voices heard with our wallet. If the studios aren’t going to give us queer content we can watch, we stop giving them money.

About Mika A. Epstein

Mika has been deep in fandom since she could say 'Trekkie.' With decades experience in running fansites, developing software, and organizing communities, she's taken on the challenge of delving into the recesses of television for queers long forgotten. Making this site with Tracy is nothing short of serendipity. Mika lives with her wife in Southern California. Of course she has a hybrid, but she'd rather ride her bicycle.
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