SAG-AFTRA Actors Return to Picket Lines Amid Calls for Renewed Talks

Striking Hollywood writers
Workers and supporters of the Writers Guild of America protest at a picket line outside Paramount Studios in May. REUTERS/Aude Guerrucci

SAG-AFTRA members returned to the picket lines Monday to continue their strike against Hollywood studios amid calls from union president Fran Drescher and other entertainment industry union leaders for negotiations to resume “immediately.”

Drescher slammed the major studios Friday for suspending contract talks with striking actors and called for a resumption of negotiations. That call was echoed later by leaders of various Hollywood unions who issued a joint statement demanding an immediate return to the bargaining table.

The joint statement came from the Writers Guild of America’s West and East branches, the Directors Guild of America, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the American Federation of Musicians, the Teamsters and Hollywood Basic Crafts.

It came two days after negotiations broke down in the ongoing labor standoff, with AMPTP suspending the talks and issuing a statement saying, “After meaningful conversations, it is clear that the gap between the AMPTP and SAG-AFTRA is too great, and conversations are no longer moving us in a productive direction.”

But Friday, the unions stood in solidarity with SAG-AFTRA.

“Our members work side-by-side for the same handful of employers, and our unions and guilds collectively stand more united than ever,” the unions’ statement read.

“Each day a fair contract addressing actors’ unique priorities is delayed is another day working professionals across our industry suffer unnecessarily. At this point, it should be clear to the studios and the AMPTP that more is needed than proposals which merely replicate the terms negotiated with other unions.”

Earlier Friday, Drescher appeared on NBC’s Monday Show and said the breakdown in talks “really came as a shock to me.”

“What does that exactly mean and why would you walk away from the table?” she said.”It’s not like we’re asking for anything that’s so outrageous. It’s so wrong. And it’s so unfair that they walked out of the meeting, and so disrespectful.”

The two sides met five times since Oct. 2, their first talks since the SAG-AFTRA strike began July 14, including on Wednesday.

“We have negotiated with them in good faith, despite the fact that last week they presented an offer that was, shockingly, worth less than they proposed before the strike began,” according to a statement by SAG-AFTRA Wednesday.

The union said studio CEOs “walked away from the bargaining table after refusing to counter our latest offer.”

SAG-AFTRA demands include general wage increases, protections against the use of actor images through artificial intelligence, boosts in compensation for successful streaming programs and improvements in health and retirement benefits.

In its Wednesday statement, the union contended that the studios “refuse to protect performers from being replaced by AI, they refuse to increase your wages to keep up with inflation and they refuse to share a tiny portion of the immense revenue your work generates for them.”

“We have made big meaningful counters on our end, including completely transforming our revenue share proposal, which would cost the companies less than 57 cents per subscriber each year. They have rejected our proposals and refused to counter.”

On Thursday, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, who has been participating in the talks along with other major studios heads, said during a Bloomberg conference that the negotiations disintegrated over a union proposal to add a “levy” on every streaming service subscriber.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Sarandos told conference attendees that the union rejected a “success-based bonus” revenue model similar to the one recently accepted by the Writers Guild of America union, but which was far more costly.

“That was rejected and the counter was this levy on every subscriber and prior to that was a levy on all revenue, where basically the union will take a certain amount of money for every subscriber to a service,” Sarandos said, according to THR.

“That issue we got resolved with the writers was not only accepted in the deal but ratified by a 99 percent vote of the Writers Guild. So I know that these guilds are not created equal and they all have different needs and more bespoke needs, but like I said, that is one that worked that rewarded success, which we agreed with. But a levy on top of our revenue or per subscriber, with no insight into the revenue per subscriber or anything, we just felt like a bridge too far to add this deep into the negotiation.”

The Writers Guild of America ended its strike against the studios on Sept. 27. Members of the WGA ratified the agreement earlier this week to end the strike that began on May 2.

–City News Service