Hollywood actors strike, joining writers, after studio contract expires without deal

Hollywood production started screeching towards a halt Thursday as the union representing TV and film actors and performers ordered a strike, effective Friday, July 14, after an existing contract expired without reaching a new deal with studios and streamers.

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artist (SAG-AFTRA) for TV, Theatrical, Streaming strike comes on the heels of a Hollywood writers strike, which has been ongoing since May 2 when the Writers Guild of America hit its own impasse with companies represented by AMPTP. The latest means a work stoppage that will see both actors and writers take to the picket line.

It marks the first actors strike in the film and TV industry since 1980 and the first time both actors and writers are striking at the same time since 1960, per Deadline.  

During a press conference Thursday, Reuters reported that SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher said she was “shocked by the way people we have been in business with are treating us.” The union president went on to comment on media executive compensation, saying “I cannot believe it, quite frankly, how far apart we are on so many things, how they plead poverty that they're losing money left and right when giving hundreds of millions to their CEOs.”  

The SAG-AFTRA have been negotiating with the Alliance for Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents companies including Amazon, Apple, Disney, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Paramount, Sony and Warner Bros. Discovery, since June 7 to reach a new deal before the existing contract expired June 30. There was some indication that the two sides could reach terms when they agreed to extend the expiration until July 12, although prospects looked less rosy as the deadline approached and a federal mediator was brought in but no extension granted by SAG-AFTRA.  

On Thursday after the deadline passed without a new contract a strike appeared imminent, with SAG-AFTRA's Drescher and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland calling for a meeting of the union’s National Board to vote on a strike order, saying that AMPTP “remains unwilling to offer a fair deal on the key issues” that members said were important to them.

“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,” said Drescher in a statement ahead of the National Board’s strike vote.

Some of the issues Drescher cited in the letter include erosion to pay due to the rise of streaming services, as well as concerns over artificial intelligence – with the desire for “contract language that protects them from having their identity and talent exploited without consent and pay.”

Heading into negotiations, nearly 98% of the union’s voting members voted in favor for a strike authorization with almost 65,000 members casting votes.

In a statement reported by CNBC, the AMPTP blamed SAG-AFTRA for stalled talks, saying it “presented a deal that offered historic pay and residual increases, substantially higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, and a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors’ digital likenesses.”

Meanwhile, the Directors Guild of America reached a tentative three-year agreement with AMPTP in June.