Writers and actors on strike: An overview

WGAW Board member Justin Halpern talking to UTLA and WGA members outside Warner Bros. Photo from WGA.

On March 7, members of The Writers Guild of America (WGA) voted just short of 99% in favor of a list of new demands from The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) – which represents Amazon/MGM, Apple, Disney/ABC/Fox, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Paramount/CBS, Sony, Warner Bros., Discovery (HBO) and more. The demands are in pursuit of higher pay, adjusted residuals, new staffing requirements and protections from artificial intelligence (A.I.), amongst other concerns. 

Six months later, no agreement has been reached and the WGA is currently on strike, joined now by The Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), marking the first joint strike between actors and writers in 63 years and the first joint walkout since 1980. With seemingly no end in sight, many actors, writers, unions, laborers and fans alike are left wondering what this strike could mean for the future of the entertainment industry.

The WGA is looking to address concerns within three main categories: compensation and residuals; pension plans and health funds; and professional standards and protection in the employment of writers. Their list of demands within these three categories is as follows:

Compensation and Residuals

  • “Increase minimum compensation significantly to address the devaluation of writing in all areas of television, new media and feature”
  • “Standardize compensation and residual terms for features whether released theatrically or on streaming”
  • “Address the abuses of mini-rooms
  • “Ensure appropriate television series writing compensation throughout entire process of pre-production, production and post-production”
  • “Expand span protections to cover all television writers”
  • “Apply MBA minimums to comedy-variety programs made for new media”
  • “Increase residuals for under-compensated reuse markets”
  • “Restrict uncompensated use of excerpts”

Pension Plan and Health Fund

Professional Standards and Protection in the Employment of Writers

  • “For feature contracts in which compensation falls below a specified threshold, require weekly payment of compensation and a minimum of two steps”
  • “Strengthen regulation of options and exclusivity in television writer employment contracts”
  • “Regulate use of material produced using artificial intelligence or similar technologies”
  • “Enact measures to combat discrimination and harassment and to promote pay equity”
  • “Revise and expand all arbitrator lists”

On March 20, negotiations between the WGA and AMPTP began but eventually stalled. Demands were not properly addressed before the set deadline of May 1, which provoked the WGA members to withhold labor starting May 2 after a nearly-98% vote in favor of a strike. As a direct result, many prominent late-night shows such as “The Late Night Show with Stephen Colbert,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” were shut down, along with “Saturday Night Live,” “Real Time with Bill Maher” and “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” 

As the strike continues, the list of projects that have halted production includes “Stranger Things” (Season Five), “Euphoria” (Season Three), “The Last of Us” (Season Two), “Abbott Elementary” (Season Three), “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Season Six and Finale), “Severance” (Season Two), “Big Mouth” (Season Eight and Finale), “Cobra Kai” (Season Six), “The Penguin (Season One Debut), “Dune Part 2”, Sony Pictures’ “Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse,” Marvel Studios’ fourth and untitled Spider-Man film, “Kraven the Hunter,” “Daredevil: Born Again” and “Deadpool 3,” among many others.

On June 5, SAG-AFTRA voted with nearly a 98% majority to strike if a deal could not be reached with the AMPTP by the end of the month, which would place them on the picket line alongside the WGA. SAG-AFTRA published a document detailing their positions, in which they explained they had already compromised during negotiations. However, according to this document, the AMPTP was not willing to meet the following demands:

  • “Performers need minimum earnings to simply keep up with inflation”
  • “Performers need the protection of our images and performances to prevent replacement of human performances by artificial intelligence technology
  • “Performers need qualified hair and makeup professionals as well as equipment to safely and effectively style a variety of hair textures/styles and skin tones”
  • “Performers need compensation to reflect the value we bring to the streamers who profit from our labor”
  • “All performers need support from our employers to keep our health and retirement funds sustainable”
  • “Principal performers need to be able to work during hiatus and not be held captive by employers”
  • “Principal performers need to be reimbursed for relocation expenses when they’re employed away from home”

According to the document, the AMPTP was only willing to agree to what SAG-AFTRA refers to as “simple basic issues of fairness and respect,” such as:

  • “Access to reproductive healthcare and gender affirming care for performers working away from home in states that restrict medical access”
  • “A consultation process to guard against racist and sexist “wiggings” and “paintdowns” of stunt performers”
  • “Safety for performers working with animals on set”

In turn, SAG-AFTRA officially began their strike on July 13, which severely impacted the promotion of director Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” and director Greta Gerwig’sBarbie.” Actors were unable to make media appearances pertaining to the release of either film, and the cast of “Oppenheimer” walked out of the premier of their own movie when the strike was announced. In spite of the clear negative impact on the two films, both Christopher Nolan and Greta Gerwg expressed their support for the WGA and SAG-AFTRA.

On Aug. 4, representatives of the WGA met with studios but to no avail, reporting that the AMPTP was not open to engaging in screenwriters’ issues. Now, over three months into the strike, a growing list of delays and cancellations is the least of the problems. The result of 171,500 actors and writers on strike in Hollywood is a hit to local economies all across the U.S. including a $3 billion blow to California. Consequently, 1.7 million out-of-state industry workers have been negatively impacted.

Though neither the WGA nor SAG-AFTRA could reach an agreement, The Directors Guild of America (DGA) agreed to a new contract with the AMPTP on June 23, shortly before SAG-AFTRA went on strike. The agreement between the AMPTP and DGA secured wage increases, better residuals and some protections from AI for directors. DGA released a statement on their website the following month, affirming their support for the WGA and SAG-AFTRA during their respective strikes.

For the strike to end, an agreement must be reached by the AMPTP with both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA. It is difficult to predict when this will happen, but, for now, an agreement seems unlikely in the near future. 

2 thoughts on “Writers and actors on strike: An overview

  1. Jordan

    Another interesting angle is that the lack of new TV content means there’ll be a lot more attention on live sports since there’s nothing but reruns on!

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