What is SAG-AFTRA?

SAG-AFTRA is the conglomeration of two American labor unions, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Together, they form a unified labor union for media entertainers. One common misconception about SAG-AFTRA is that they only represent actors in movies and television. The truth is that they are a union for any on-screen or on-air performers, including actors, singers, dancers, stunt performers, voice actors, and many more. SAG-AFTRA is a labor union, so its main goal is to help its members advocate for their rights within their workplaces. These rights include fair and livable wages, job benefits, the adherence to contracts with production companies, and the protection against unauthorized use of the work created by their members.

Why was SAG-AFTRA on strike?

On July 14, 2023, SAG-AFTRA officially declared a strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP. The AMPTP represents movie and TV studios such as Disney, Paramount, and Warner Brothers. This strike called for a cease in working on any production that was produced by an AMPTP-represented company. The main reason why SAG-AFTRA went on strike is because they were unable to agree upon a new contract with AMPTP that addressed how members would be affected by the rise of streaming platforms. TV shows and movies that SAG-AFTRA members had worked on were being sold to streaming platforms and the members were paid very little of the money that was made by people streaming their work. SAG-AFTRA argued that their members should receive fair residuals, or royalties, for the work they did on the shows and movies that are playing on streaming platforms. Another reason for the strike is because SAG-AFTRA is concerned about the rise of artificial intelligence and what that means for the careers of their members. A.I. could be used to copy the voices and performances of different entertainers without giving proper credit or compensation to the original person that the A.I. takes its information from. This could lead to the union’s actors, dancers, stunt performers, etc. likenesses being used to make money for production studios without their consent and without getting paid.

What did it mean for SAG-AFTRA to be on strike?

Being on strike meant that members of SAG-AFTRA couldn’t do any on-camera or off-camera work for productions that had been struck. According to the official strike notice and order made to all members of SAG-AFTRA, examples of on-camera work would be acting, dancing, and performing stunts for a movie or TV production. Off-camera work would include voice acting, narration, and singing, among other things. Doing promotional work was also prohibited by the strike, meaning that members cannot talk about struck productions during interviews or panels and cannot participate in events like movie or TV premieres. Other actions that members were not allowed to do during the strike included things like wardrobe and makeup tests, rehearsals, and auditions for new productions. In support of the strike, SAG-AFTRA members had also been picketing in front of the offices of TV and movie producers and the studios themselves. People had been gathering en masse for months to advocate for their rights and continued to do so until a tentative agreement with AMPTP was finally reached.

Why was this strike necessary?

Issues like inflation, workplace safety, proper residuals not being paid, and artificial intelligence threatening to take over the movie and TV industry are all components for why SAG-AFTRA decided to strike. At the core of these issues is the problem of worker exploitation. These production studios have made an already difficult and unstable career path even more treacherous by not fairly compensating entertainers for their work. One myth that surrounds the movie and TV industry is that everyone is making millions of dollars. The truth is that only A-list actors and higher-up executives are making this amount of money. Most of the people in the industry are working-class people who live paycheck-to-paycheck like many other American workers. To put this into perspective, a performer must make a minimum of $26,470 a year in order to qualify for health insurance within SAG-AFTRA, but only 12.7% of their members make enough to qualify. Meanwhile, the CEOs and executives at production companies profit millions of dollars off the work made by the union’s members. The discrepancy in the work-to-pay ratio is why this strike and new contract was necessary. How and when was the strike resolved? The strike was resolved on November 8, 2023, thus ending the strike after 118 days. A tentative agreement with the AMPTP was reached, which allowed for the members of SAG-AFTRA to return to work. This agreement produced a new contract for SAG-AFTRA members that offered solutions to the problems mentioned above, including streaming residuals, higher wages, more benefits, and protection against AI. Thanks to the hard-working and tenacious SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee, we can expect to see work resume on projects that were halted due to the strike and see information come out about new productions. This particular strike has shown that working-class people can and will stand up to the higher powers who are exploiting them and can result in the betterment of so many people’s lives thanks to their willingness to fight for their rights.

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