Strike Update: Will the Actors Prompt a Tri-Guild Walk-Out?

Fran Drescher, president of SAG-AFTRA.
Fran Drescher, president of SAG-AFTRA. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
Jonathan Handel
May 22, 2023

With most attention focused on the writers’ strike and directors’ negotiations, I’m looking at the upcoming SAG-AFTRA negotiations, which start June 7, and at the June 30 contract expiration. My sources close to the situation are outlining a thicket of key issues. 

On basic wages, the actors union will likely want increases that address inflation, like the DGA but unlike the WGA’s somewhat tamer proposal (that was nonetheless rejected by the studios and streamers). On streaming residuals, actors haven’t given up on transparency and a success metric, an implicit rejection of the DGA’s concession on this issue and a very sticky wicket for data-stingy streamers. The actors are also concerned about their pension and health plans, which are funded by employer contributions based on actors’ session fees and residuals. The problem is that only the first couple hundred thousand dollars a year in earnings count for this purpose, with no contributions levied on earnings above that amount, a ceiling that hasn’t budged in decades. That starves the plan of full-throated contributions based on the union’s higher earners—money that might have avoided the debacle from several years ago when the plan pushed many seniors onto Medicare.

Then there’s generative A.I., which poses an even more imminent threat to actors. A usable A.I. script is probably some years out, but A.I. is turbocharging audio and video deepfake technology. The studio counter to the WGA’s proposal for A.I. restrictions was annual meetings, which is absurd on its face: the technology is changing so quickly that monthly meetings and mid-course contract revisions are going to be necessary. As I told KCRW on Thursday, in response to a comment by Justine Bateman, “If you squeeze the soul out of entertainment and turn it into something that is simply generated by the ghost in the machine, there is something lost… in addition to the economic oppression that can result.”