SAG-AFTRA‘s national board has unanimously voted to recommend that its members authorize a strike before its upcoming negotiations for a new film and television contract, Deadline is reporting. The union’s leadership body unanimously agreed on the measure, which doesn’t automatically trigger a strike.
However, if SAG-AFTRA’s members vote in favor of the authorization, that would grant its leaders the power to call a work stoppage if they find it necessary during upcoming talks with studios and streamers. The guild says the national board decided on this approach after its television and theatrical negotiating committee recommended it in a bid to improve leverage going into negotiations with employers.
“In anticipation of the union’s forthcoming TV/Theatrical Contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which begin June 7, the SAG-AFTRA National Board agreed unanimously to recommend that its members vote to authorize a strike,” the guild said in a statement posted on its website.
“An affirmative vote does not mean a strike would necessarily happen, but it would allow the National Board to call one if deemed necessary during the negotiations process,” the union continued. “The action comes following a unanimous agreement by the TV/Theatrical negotiating committee that the strike authorization would give the union maximum bargaining leverage as it enters this round of negotiations with the AMPTP. SAG-AFTRA represents more than 160,000 entertainment and media professionals.”
“It was the most solidarity that I’ve seen in a long, long time,” said a board member after the meeting. “To get 100% of this board to agree on something shows that we are united.”
SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher also commented on the forthcoming negotiations and pending strike. The actress-trade union leader stated: “For the first time in a very long time, our member leadership stands in solidarity at the negotiating committee and the National Board levels on moving forward with a strike authorization. We must get all our ducks in a row should the need present itself. The prospect of a strike is not a first option, but a last resort. As my dad always says, ‘Better to have and not need than to need and not have!’
The former star of the popular Emmy-winning sitcom, The Nanny, added: “Therefore, I implore eligible members to follow the leads of both the negotiating committee and the National Board with an unprecedented show of solidarity and make three a charm with an emphatic ‘yes’ for a strike authorization vote!”
Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the guild’s national executive director and chief negotiator, also spoke about the forthcoming negotiation and possible strike: “Strike authorization sends an important message during the negotiations process. A ‘yes’ vote gives the National Board the power to call a strike if the AMPTP does not negotiate fairly in our upcoming bargaining. This will be a seminal negotiation that will determine the future of what it means to be a working performer. We must be ready to fight to secure a meaningful deal for our members.”
In its statement, SAG-AFTRA said: “Earning a living as a professional performer has become increasingly difficult, with both inflation and the streaming ecosystem undercutting compensation — all the while, corporate profits and executive pay at studios continue to rise. Add to this the unregulated use of artificial intelligence and the burdens of the industrywide shift to self-tape, the outlook for working actors becomes unsustainable without transformative change.
“A successful strike authorization vote doesn’t initiate a strike. Instead, the strike authorization permits the National Board to declare a strike if the studios and streaming companies fail to negotiate fairly with SAG-AFTRA for the benefit of its members,” the union added.
In an accompanying Frequently Asked Questions page, the guild also revealed that its top priorities for the 2023 negotiations include improving economic fairness in an environment with short TV seasons and long hiatuses. SAG-AFTRA added that it wants to improve compensation and bolster its health and pension plans. The union also wants to regulate the use of artificial intelligence, raising residuals payments and change the current culture of self-taped auditions.
“Many other important issues, including those specific to particular careers and categories, will be on the table as well,” SAG-AFTRA added.
The news comes on Day 16 of the Writers Guild strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the studios and streamers in negotiations with unions. The Directors Guild, meanwhile, began contract negotiations with the AMPTP on May 10. The AMPTP declined to comment on the situation.
The last time that SAG-AFTRA went on strike was in 2000, when the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) were still separate unions. They came together to negotiate their commercials contract that year in a work stoppage that lasted six months.
Postcards will be sent to eligible members today, with instructions on how to vote. The voting process will close at 5 p.m. PT on June 5. If members collectively vote to strike, the union has until midnight on June 30, when the current contract expires, to initiate it.