The members of Hollywood’s largest union have given the green light to their negotiators to call a strike if deemed necessary in upcoming labor negotiations.
Nearly 98 percent of members of performers’ union SAG-AFTRA voted to authorize a strike in a referendum that lasted a little over two weeks and concluded Monday evening. (SAG-AFTRA did not release the percentage that voted against the authorization.) The “yes” vote does not trigger a strike, but allows the union’s top negotiators to potentially call a work stoppage once their TV/theatrical contracts have expired on June 30, if negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers falter.
Sixty-five thousand eligible members voted, for a turnout of nearly 48 percent, which is relatively high for the sprawling union. (As a point of comparison, turnout for the union’s 2020 TV/Theatrical contracts ratification vote was a little over 27 percent.)
The high “yes” vote is nearly identical to one obtained by the Writers Guild of America amid its early round of negotiations with the AMPTP in April (the WGA obtained a 97.85 percent strike authorization, as compared with SAG-AFTRA’s 97.91 percent), before the WGA did indeed go on strike on May 2.
“The strike authorization votes have been tabulated and the membership joined their elected leadership and negotiating committee in favor of strength and solidarity. I’m proud of all of you who voted as well as those who were vocally supportive, even if unable to vote. Everyone played a part in this achievement,” SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher said in a statement. “Together we lock elbows and in unity we build a new contract that honors our contributions in this remarkable industry, reflects the new digital and streaming business model and brings ALL our concerns for protections and benefits into the now! Bravo SAG-AFTRA, we are in it to win it.”
The AMPTP said in their own statement Monday night, meanwhile, “We are approaching these negotiations with the goal of achieving a new agreement that is beneficial to SAG-AFTRA members and the industry overall.”
During the voting period, SAG-AFTRA leaders heavily encouraged members to vote “yes” as a way to improve the union’s bargaining position during a compressed round of talks with studios and streamers this year. SAG-AFTRA negotiations will begin June 7, only a little over three weeks before its TV/theatrical contracts expire. “Unfortunately, this year is a little bit of an anomaly. We’re starting later, we don’t have a big window to negotiate,” union president Fran Drescher told members in a video encouraging them to authorize a strike in late May. The idea was to “go in prepared,” she said. “Because it’s better to have and not need than need and not have.”
The union’s national board unanimously agreed to call a strike authorization vote on May 17 in a major show of unity from the often-fractious member leaders. “For the first time in a very long time, our member leadership stands in solidarity at the negotiating committee and the National Board levels,” Drescher acknowledged at the time.
During its June negotiations, SAG-AFTRA leaders are expected to attempt to codify protections against generative A.I. in the contract and improve member residuals and minimum rates in a streaming-dominated era. They are also seeking to strengthen the union’s embattled health plan alongside its pension plan and put more strictures on self-taped auditions, which exploded in prevalence during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his own statement on Monday, SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland specifically called out “inflation, dwindling residuals due to streaming, and generative AI” as threats to union members in 2023. “This strike authorization means we enter our negotiations from a position of strength, so that we can deliver the deal our members want and deserve,” Crabtree-Ireland said.
Crabtree-Ireland is heading up negotiations for the union, while AMPTP president Carol Lombardini will lead talks for the AMPTP.
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