The Big Picture
- The 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike, lasting 118 days, resulted in concessions and changes from the AMPTP, benefiting actors in terms of digital replicas, streaming revenue, and general wage increases.
- The AMPTP executives’ behavior during the strike was controversial and uncooperative, with inconsiderate public statements and a lack of negotiations. The strike could have been resolved much sooner.
- The lengthy nature of the strike reflects the imbalance of power between the AMPTP corporations and the unions. The AMPTP’s refusal to negotiate caused significant damage to the entertainment industry and hurt countless workers.
The 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike has come to an end after 118 days. It’s the second instance of a high-profile labor strike in Hollywood lasting for eons but finally coming to a positive close in 2023 following the resolution of the Writer’s Guild of America strike. The ending of this strike resulted in a slew of concessions and changes from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), a trade association representing a slew of film and television production companies (like Netflix, Disney, Warner Bros.) In a breakdown with Rolling Stone, SAG-AFTRA national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland explained what exactly this tentative agreement with AMPTP entailed. Among the many accomplishments here were strict restrictions on how digital replicas of actors could or could not be used. There were also significant improvements applied to the kind of revenue actors could expect in the long term from acting in streaming productions and general wage increases across the board.
Elements of this agreement are still shrouded in mystery (more details will come to light if this agreement is ratified by the various members of the SAF-AFTRA union), but at this moment, the future of the entertainment industry is looking incredibly hopeful. In the wake of this labor-based victory, the striking actors and leaders of SAG-AFTRA should take comfort in their resilience. The real loser in this situation is, of course, the various companies making up the AMPTP. They may have finally caved to the demands of SAG-AFTRA, but the actions of the various AMPTP entities during this strike are still well worth remembering for all the wrong reasons.
The last SAG strike, which occurred in 2000 before SAG’s merger with AFTRA, lasted a total of 182 days.
The SAG-AFTRA Strike Was Packed With Controversy From the Start
Rolling Stone’s breakdown of the results of the SAG-AFTRA strike includes comments from Crabtree-Ireland where he recalls how, until the final few hours, there was never any real certainty that this strike would come to an imminent end. This was apparently due to the behavior of the forces making up the AMPTP, who made negotiations incredibly difficult. This, unfortunately, is consistent with the behavior of AMPTP executives during this strike. Never forget, at the very beginning of this labor dispute, an anonymous AMPTP executive disclosed to the entertainment press that a key strategy of media executives was to prolong the strike until the artists were losing their homes, thus making them conceptually more vulnerable to accept the demands of the AMPTP.
Such an approach made it readily apparent that the AMPTP executives entered the string of labor disputes in Hollywood with, at best, a dubious attitude towards working with the members of both SAG-AFTRA and the Writer’s Guild of America. This perception was reinforced by comments from Disney CEO Bob Iger about how actors were “not realistic” with their demands for fair pay, a line that earned the executive scorn given his excessive pay at Disney. It felt like nary a week could go by without some big executive (and key member of the AMPTP) putting their foot in their mouth regarding the strike. Sony Pictures chief Tony Vinciquerra, for instance, waxed poetic on the joys of A.I. and dismissed any concerns from working-class artists on the technology in September 2023. Meanwhile, Netflix’s CEO Ted Sarandos tried to justify the AMPTP walking away from negotiations by complaining that the newest demands from the actors would cost companies like Netflix a “whopping” 57 cents a subscriber.
It’s not like media CEOs have been model citizens before the SAG-AFTRA strike, but the barrage of inconsiderate public statements from these uber-wealthy members of the AMPTP was endlessly frustrating. While working-class actors were on the picket lines, people in executive positions tried to paint themselves and A.I. as the real victims. Such comments, like Iger’s initial dismissal of the concerns of the SAG-AFTRA members, are so especially hurtful that it’s difficult to imagine those words not lingering in the minds of Disney employees long after the strike was over. In trying to spin the media image of the strike in their favor, all big executives and AMPTP members did was create awkward tension with their employees.
Why Didn’t the Studios Solve This Sooner?
The biggest reason AMPTP has emerged from this strike as a colossal loser, though, is simply because of how long this strike lasted. The history of Hollywood is full of strikes from union-residing artists, but rarely have those strikes gone on as long as the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. For comparison’s sake, the 1980 actors’ strike lasted 95 days, while a 1960 actors’ strike went on for 42 days. This lengthy quarrel between SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP comes hot on the heels of a Writer’s Guild of America strike that lasted a staggering 148 days. When you’re negotiating union terms with corporations like Comcast, Disney, or Amazon (to name a few), it’s clear who has the most power in the dynamic. These massive entities could’ve stopped this strike from ever happening… but they chose not to.
A few weeks into the SAG-AFTRA strike, the AMPTP confirmed it was refusing to negotiate with this union group (it was engaging in the same lack of communication with the Writer’s Guild at the time). Countless jobs (including below-the-line workers affected by the dearth of new movies and TV shows to work on) were on the line, yet leaders of corporations with staggering power and endless heaps of money were refusing to engage in any sort of negotiations to end the strikes. It would take until October 2023 (nearly three months after the strike began) for the AMPTP to agree to renew talks with SAG-AFTRA. In hindsight, it’s stunning to consider this timetable of events. The AMPTP postponed actually working with its employees for months and months…and for what? In the end, the AMPTP caved on countless issues it said as late as October 2023 it would never budge on.
It’s impossible to extrapolate an exact motive for this behavior. What isn’t impossible, though, is the grappling with the ramifications of these techniques. The entire entertainment industry was pulled upside down because of the prolonged nature of this strike, which was stretched out by the unwillingness of the AMPTP to negotiate with SAG-AFTRA. Instead, the leaders of companies making up the AMPTP, like WarnerDiscovery CEO David Zaslav, just bragged about all the money they were “saving” thanks to the strike. Even with the strike resolved, such behavior isn’t going to just fade from memory. Not only could the resolution to this strike have come much sooner, but the biggest entertainment CEOs could’ve prevented it from happening entirely.
These influential figures dragged this skirmish out for months and months, hurting countless movies and TV shows in the process, costing so many people jobs…and for what? In the outcome of both the Writer’s Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA strikes, the AMPTP held out for months only to just collapse and give working-class folks the things they needed. Whatever the thinking behind these maneuvers was, it just came off as an eye-roll-worthy power move. The innate problems with the massive conglomerates that now lord over the American entertainment scene are more apparent than ever in the wake of these massive strikes getting resolved. While the resolution to the SAG-AFTRA strike should correct some problems in the industry, it’s clear that many of the woes with the AMPTP are not going away anytime soon.
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Khushi Patel is a science fiction author who lives in Austin, Texas. She has published three novels, and her work has been praised for its originality and imagination. Khushi is a graduate of Rice University, and she has worked as a software engineer. She is a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, and her books have been nominated for several awards.