After 118 days on strike, SAG-AFTRA has officially reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year contract with studios, a move that is heralding the end of the 2023 actors strike. The SAG-AFTRA TV/Theatrical Committee approved the agreement in a unanimous vote last Wednesday. The strike ended at 12:01 a.m. this morning, Thursday, November 9, 2023. On Friday, the deal will go to the union’s national board for approval.
The details of the new deal have yet to be announced, but the union is so far providing some details of the agreement, In a message to members Wednesday night, the union said the pact is valued at over $1 billion and includes pay increases higher than what other unions received this year, a “streaming participation bonus” and regulations on AI. The tentative deal also includes higher caps on health and pension funds, compensation bumps for background performers and “critical contract provisions protecting diverse communities.” If the deal is ratified, the contract could soon go into effect, and if not, members would essentially send their labor negotiators back to the bargaining table with the AMPTP.
In a statement Wednesday night, the AMPTP said, “Today’s tentative agreement represents a new paradigm. It gives SAG-AFTRA the biggest contract-on-contract gains in the history of the union, including the largest increase in minimum wages in the last forty years; a brand new residual for streaming programs; extensive consent and compensation protections in the use of artificial intelligence; and sizable contract increases on items across the board. The AMPTP is pleased to have reached a tentative agreement and looks forward to the industry resuming the work of telling great stories.”
When talks resumed on Oct. 2 after SAG-AFTRA’s work stoppage in July, there was hope that Hollywood’s largest union could quickly reach an agreement with major companies. Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, Disney CEO Bob Iger, and NBCUniversal Studio Group chairman and chief content officer Donna Langley attended the negotiations in Los Angeles. However, on Oct. 11, the studio walked out because SAG-AFTRA proposed charging a fee per streaming subscriber on major platforms. The union’s chief negotiator described this as “mystifying,” while Sarandos referred to it as “a bridge too far.”
The negotiations resumed on October 24th after a two-week break. This time, the studios made a more generous offer to increase actors’ minimum wages and a slightly modified version of a streaming bonus based on success that they had previously proposed to the WGA. Throughout the week, the two parties exchanged proposals in a tense atmosphere that made the industry anxious. Despite the progress in reaching a deal, discussions regarding the regulations on artificial intelligence were slow. The union considers this rapidly advancing technology as an existential issue for its members and aimed to close any potential loopholes that could cause future problems. On Saturday, the studios presented their “last, best, and final” offer, although both sides continued to exchange offers even after that.
SAG-AFTRA’s strike, which happened during an ongoing writers strike in July, gave the union a lot of power early on in its talks with the AMPTP. Immediately, most unionized U.S. productions without writers shut down, including Deadpool 3 and Venom 3. As the strike continued for months, a strategist at the Milken Institute estimated that the strikes have cost the economy of California at least $6 billion.
The amount of time that the union spent on strike in 2023 will certainly raise expectations for the deal they reached with studios. In the union’s upcoming ratification vote, the date of which has not yet been announced, members will decide whether the pact is acceptable to them.
One of the key issues was the studios’ insistence on being able to digitize the physical appearances of actors and then retain the rights to use that recorded likeness in perpetuity without additional compensation or licensing. SAG-AFTRA, naturally, pushed back hard against this. The exact nature of the compromise reached, or how much SAG-AFTRA budged on this at all, has yet to be revealed.
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