ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Jeremy Telman
Oklahoma City University
School of Law

Friday, September 29, 2023

The SAG-AFTRA Strike

We wrote last week about the auto workers strike.  We have been remiss in not having covered the strike of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), and the related strike of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) that began in May and just concluded this week. 

Although when I first drafted this post, there was no hint that the WGA strike was about to end, I will not claim that I alone fixed it. 

But did I?  I'm just asking questions.

In any case, it is time to catch up.

The WGA strike was the longest work-stoppage involving that group since 1988.  One of the main issues in the strike was the writers' access to residuals from streaming media.  Writers, like all of us, are also concerned that the studios might replace them with some new version of artificial intelligence.   The parties started off pretty far apart, with the WGA saying that its proposals would yield benefits of $429 million a year; the AMPTP's offer would yield $86 million. For months, there seemed to be no prospect of a resolution.  This month, negotiations seemed to make promising progress.

Suddenly, over the weekend, there was a breakthrough.  A tentative deal has been signed and, as Brooks Barnes of The New York Times reports, writers began returning to work this week.  The parties are expected to enter into a new three-year agreement, and most reporting suggests that the writers got most of what they were seeking, including 

  • a 76% increase in residuals payments;
  • a bonus to writers from streaming services; 
  • guarantees of minimal staffing; and 
  • no AI encroachment on writers' credits and compensation.

So now the writers can write.  But who will perform what they have written?

SAG-AFTRASAG-AFTRA joined the strike in July.  This is the first such industry strike since the actors' strike in 1980, and it is the first time writers and actors have gone on strike simultaneously since 1960.  The actors' concerns are similar to those of the writers.  They seek residuals from broadcasts over streaming services, and they too have worries about being replaced through artificial intelligence.

\According to Wikipedia, actors can still appear on podcasts, micro-budget independent films, student films, unscripted television work such as game shows, reality competition shows, documentaries, and talk shows.  This might be a boon to podcasts, and I assume that if the casts of Oppenheimer and Barbie want to make a video appearance on this blog, that would be no problem.  

So, for example, there has been at least one positive externality of all of this.  Jeri Ryan, unable to work due to the strike, has more time to spend on social media.  Two weeks ago, she used some of that time to like something I posted on BlueSky.  

Screenshot 2023-09-12 at 10.19.38 AMI have followed Ms. Ryan's career since getting to know her as 7 of 9 on Star Trek Voyager.   Let's just say I am a fan.  I wanted to name my daughter "Seven," but my wife, also a fan, won that battle.  Still, twenty years later, one "like" from Jeri Ryan was mind blowing.  I asked my Associate Dean if I could cancel class due to being on Cloud 7 of 9.  She suggested that I instead share my joy with my students.  Which I did.  They had no idea who Jeri Ryan is, but that is their loss.  Also, as Seven would say, irrelevant.

Edited with helpful corrections from David August.

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