SAG-AFTRA, the country’s largest actor’s union, officially went on strike Thursday, bringing a halt to film and TV productions nationwide. Following the strike declared by the Writers Guild of America in May, today’s work stoppage by SAG-AFTRA members — accounting for 160,000 television and movie actors — marks Hollywood’s first industrywide strike in 63 years.

Since early June, the actor’s union had been locked in bitter negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents all major studios and streamers. There was never any doubt that SAG-AFTRA was serious: Ahead of negotiations, its members voted overwhelmingly (97.91%) to strike in the event AMPTP failed to satisfy union demands.

This is the first major entertainment industry labor confrontation of the streaming era, a transformation with profound impacts on actors. The rise of streaming platforms has disrupted traditional profit-sharing structures and lead to significant deterioration in pay and working conditions. The rise of artificial intelligence has compounded these challenges, amounting to what actors view as an existential threat to their livelihoods.

“For our most important issues — preserving the writers’ room, putting up guardrails around AI, ending free work for screenwriters, making sure that comedy variety writers in streaming have minimums — they would not even negotiate with us.”

People familiar with the negotiations say the AMPTP has disregarded union demands concerning compensation, contributions to the union’s pension and health fund, residuals and safeguards against artificial intelligence. To illustrate the distance between the two sides, SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director and chief negotiator, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, revealed AMPTP’s plans for AI at a press conference on Thursday.

“They proposed that our background actors should be able to be scanned, get paid for one day’s pay and their company should own that scan, their image, their likeness and to be able to use it for the rest of eternity in any project they want with no consent and no compensation,” he said.

The disclosure was met with immediate backlash on social media, where the AMPTP vision was pilloried as “insane” and “terrifying.”

At Thursday’s press conference, SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher, rebuked excessive CEO pay and the industry’s plan for AI technology, stating, “If we don’t stand tall right now, we are all going to be in jeopardy of being replaced by machines.”

Outside of Netflix’s offices in Los Angeles, Adam Conover, a member of SAG-AFTRA and the WGA negotiating committee, expressed frustration with AMPTP’s unwillingness to engage with the union’s core demands.

“For our most important issues — preserving the writers’ room, putting up guardrails around AI, ending free work for screenwriters, making sure that comedy variety writers in streaming have minimums — they would not even negotiate with us,” he said. “We would go in and say, ‘You need to counter, we made a proposal, you need to make a counteroffer.’ That’s negotiating. They refused to do so.”

According to Variety, top Hollywood executives from Netflix, Disney TV and Discovery held a conference call on Monday to discuss the possibility of requesting federal mediators as a last-ditch effort to avert a strike. The next day, SAG-AFTRA expressed little confidence that even federal intervention could force AMPTP to negotiate in good faith. “We will not be manipulated by this cynical ploy to engineer an extension when the companies have had more than enough time to make a fair deal,” SAG-AFTRA said in a statement.

The actor’s union enters the strike with considerable A-list support. In late June, at the height of negotiations, more than 300 prominent actors, including Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence, published a letter stating they would not cross the picket line if the union’s demands were not met.

“We hope you’ve heard the message from us: This is an unprecedented inflection point in our industry, and what might be considered a good deal in any other years is simply not enough,” declared the letter, per Rolling Stone. “We feel that our wages, our craft, our creative freedom, and the power of our union have all been undermined in the last decade. We need to reverse those trajectories.”

The dual strike is expected to upend the film and television industry, stalling all production that uses SAG-AFTRA members as well as prohibiting actors from doing any promotional work.

When asked about the best outcome of the strike, Conover said the companies need to “come to the table and give our two unions what we need to make a living here in Los Angeles. That’s how we keep the economy of this city running. That’s how we keep making the movies and films that have made these companies billions. [They] need to come back and make a fair deal.”

SAG-AFTRA held a press conference on Thursday to announce the strike.
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