Hollywood actors to join screenwriters in strike over wages, AI

The strike is first joint action between actors and writers in 60 years, bringing major studio projects to a standstill.

SAG-AFTRA union President Fran Drescher and other leaders of the SAG-AFTRA union after talks with studios ended in failure. She has her fist raised and the others are punching the air. One has a placard reading 'SAG-AFTRA on STRIKE'
The SAG-AFTRA strike sets up a showdown with entertainment giants over pay and benefits [Mike Blake/Reuters]

A Hollywood actors’ union has announced that it will launch a joint strike with screenwriters, setting up a showdown with entertainment giants such as Disney, Netflix, and Amazon over pay and benefits.

On Thursday, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the lead negotiator with the SAG-AFTRA actors’ union, said that the strike would begin at midnight following a breakdown in negotiations with the studios. The move represents the first joint action between actors and screenwriters in six decades.

“Employers make Wall Street and greed their priority, and they forget about the essential contributors that make the machine run,” SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher said. “Shame on them. They are on the wrong side of history.”

The strike is expected to bring the US entertainment industry to a grinding halt. It takes place at a time when labour action and unionisation have seen increased interest among workers seeking better pay, benefits and conditions after decades of rising inequality.

Following the announcement, the hashtag #SAGAFTRAstrong started trending on Twitter, as social media users weighed in with support for the strike.

Writers and actors are demanding job protections against Artificial Intelligence (AI) as well as an increase in base pay and residuals from streaming services.

Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds, reporting from Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon, said the strike would cause “total disruption” to the industry.

“It is going to bring all current productions to a screeching halt. No future productions will get started until this is settled,” Reynolds said.

“This means that if, for example, a movie set is under way with actors playing their roles somewhere in the world, they have to stop and walk off the set. So it’s going to really bring everything to a screeching halt almost immediately.”

Disney CEO Bob Iger said that the workers’ demands were “very disturbing” and that the strike would be harmful and disruptive.

Iger’s comments were panned on social media, where critics pointed out that the CEO earns about $27m per year through his salary and stock incentives.

In response to the strike, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers issued a statement saying the actors’ union “has dismissed our offer of historic pay and residual increases, substantially higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors’ digital likenesses, and more”.

Actors say that many everyday entertainment workers struggle to earn enough to get by, despite the industry’s association with glamour and fame.

“You have to make $26,000 a year to qualify for your health insurance, and there are a lot of people who get across that threshold through their residual payments,” actor Matt Damon said at a promotional event for the film Oppenheimer on Wednesday.

“There’s money being made and it needs to be allocated in a way that takes care of people who are on the margins.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies