After a historic vote in favor of a motion to strike from the 160,000 members of SAG-AFTRA, its Board of Directors and its Negotiation Committee, the strike went into effect at 12:01 a.m. July 14. In a press conference the day before, SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher made an impassioned speech about the refusal of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMTPT) to negotiate on the terms set out by SAG-AFTRA and the WGA. "I went in in earnest, thinking that we would be able to avert a strike," she explained. "The gravity of this move is not lost on me or our negotiating committee, or our board members, who have voted unanimously to proceed with a strike. I am shocked by the way the people that we have been in business with are treating us. How they plead poverty, that they're losing money left and right when giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs. It is disgusting. Shame on them. They stand on the wrong side of history."
As a member of SAG-AFTRA myself, this was the quickest vote I ever cast. In the weeks leading up to the strike, it was by far the most talked about amongst my fellow actors and colleagues compared to past contract negotiations, and we have been in full support of the WGA since their strike began nearly 75 days ago. The 2007-08 Writer's Strike lasted 100 days and was estimated to have cost the entertainment industry over $500 million. The last time SAG-AFTRA went on strike in 1986, it lasted a mere 14 hours.
This strike goes beyond increased wages. It's about fairness and being compensated for contributing to the titanic profits that studios, networks and streaming services make. It's about protecting the working actor and the fact that residuals have all but evaporated when it comes to streaming projects, income that actors depend on to survive and need just to qualify for healthcare, which is set at minimum annual earnings of $26,470. When a one-day role on a series is $1,030, and it's considered a "good year" for a working actor to have five bookings, its near impossible to qualify.
"I work more than most (8-10 union jobs a year) and still barely made the minimum for health care," television and film actor Tony Robinette told me. His recent credits include Netflix'sDahmer -- Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, Night Courtand NCIS. "A show I was on [Dahmer] was one of Netflix's biggest hits last year, gaining 13 Emmy nominations. Yet its actors can barely survive."
"Since our last theatrical negotiation, we've seen unprecedented growth in the streaming industry," added actor Kenzo Lee when I asked him about the strike. Lee has appeared on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Young Sheldonand Modern Family."Chances are pretty high that your favorite shows of the last few years were made specifically for streaming," e said. "Now, with all that growth and all that profit, we as the creatives are not able to share in that success? This strike is about actors being treated fairly for their work and the success of that work."
During the Thursday press conference, Drescher went on to call out that members of the AMTPT often praise and laud actors for their contributions to television and cinema behind closed doors, "but actions speak louder than words.
"We are fortunate enough to be in a country that happens to be labor-friendly and yet we were facing opposition that was so labor-unfriendly, so tone-deaf to what we are saying," she continued. "The jig is up AMTPT, we stand tall. You have to wake up and smell the coffee. We are labor and we stand tall and we demand respect and to be honored for our contributions. You share the wealth because you cannot exist without us."
We hope this strike comes to a swift end, but not because SAG-AFTRA and the WGA give in to the ridiculous demands set by the AMTPT, but rather because the studios come to the table with an open mind and are willing to negotiate fair terms for the actors, writers and artists who contribute to the work that leads to their profits.
Photo credit: Leo Delgado
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