SAG-AFTRA to strike July 14

By Michael P. Hill Article may include affiliate links

The impending SAG-AFTRA strike is now a reality.

The union’s membership voted Thursday, July 13, 2023, to strike starting at midnight unless a deal can be reached.

SAG-AFTRA had been working under a temporary extension to its current contract. A strike had originally been planned at the end of June 2023, but both sides agreed to continue negotiating until July 13, 2023.

The only potential way to avoid a strike at this point would be for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to agree to the union’s terms or hammer out an acceptable deal. This is highly unlikely at this point given the big changes the union wants and the fact talks have broken down.

AMPTP is a group representing major film and television studios, networks and streamers. The group is tasked with negotiating contracts with major trade unions that work on productions that fall under its purview.

Picket lines are planned starting Friday, July 14, 2023.

SAG-AFTRA members, which include actors, performers, voice artists, musicians, fashion models and some producers, had previously authorized a strike in June 2023.

The union joins the Writers Guild of America, which has been on strike since May 2023.

Combined, these unions have the power to shut down numerous television and film productions within the U.S. and some overseas as well. Many productions were already dark due to the WGA strike.

Some shows and films remained in production without the services of the writing staff, but the latest strike would shutter even more. Some projects had halted production already, either out of necessity or in solidarity with the WGA. The ones that remained in production will likely have to stop with any SAG-AFTRA members now on strike.

A possible exception would be select ones in Europe operating under an Equity deal for performers, which does not fall under the SAG-AFTRA agreement.

Television news and sports broadcasting won’t be affected in most cases because these productions do not fall under the AMPTP contract. There are also other productions that are not associated with AMPTP or fall outside an agreement it has with a particular union that could continue production if it has enough non-union staff to continue.

These can include “non-dramatic” or unscripted documentary and reality programming, which typically fall under a deal called the Network Television Broadcasting Agreement and is separate from the AMPTP one.

Some independent productions may also continue, as could shows produced entirely outside the U.S. using non-members (or those willing to cross the picket line).

SAG-AFTRA is seeking changes in compensation, including minimum pay rates. It also wants to change pay and residuals for streaming productions as well as improvements to working conditions for its talent and producers.

Another concern is the rise of artificial intelligence. SAG-AFTRA is looking for guarantees from AMPTP that actors’ will be paid for any future productions created using their likeness or if past work is used to train AI models. AMPTP has said that at least some of the descriptions about potential AI uses circulating are exaggerated.

WGA is looking for many of the same provisions.

As with any strike, the effects of not working can have a big impact on union members. The entertainment industry is known for its unpredictable work availability, which means many members already struggle to pay bills and having most major production work halt could prove disasterous. The unions typically offer some assistance for members, but it would be hard to make up for all money lost.

In some cases, show hosts or stars will continue paying staff out of their own pocket in order to ensure they don’t have interruptions in income.

Other union members may seek out alternative employment outside the industry but may be hesitant, unwilling or unable to take on work for productions not covered by union contracts.