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Hollywood actors and studios meet for first time in 80 days to seek end to strike

After two and a half months, both parties sat down on Monday to talk about the union’s demands on issues such as residuals and AI. Negotiations will resume on Wednesday

Members of the SAG-AFTRA actors union during a protest outside the Sony studios, in California, on September 29, 2023.
Members of the SAG-AFTRA actors union during a protest outside the Sony studios, in California, on September 29, 2023.MARIO ANZUONI (REUTERS)

A lot has happened during the 80 says since the actors union SAG-AFTRA called a strike on July 13, but not when it comes to negotiations. It was not until Monday that the union finally met with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) to start talks on their new collective contract, which is renewed every three years. The union and Hollywood studios have maintained such distant positions that it took two and a half months for them to finally sit down and talk.

On Monday, October 2, representatives of both parties met to discuss the actors’ concerns: an increase in the minimum wage, guarantees regarding the role of artificial intelligence, regulations for the increasingly demanding self-taped auditions and fairer residuals — the long-term payments to those who worked on films and television shows for reruns and other airings after the initial release — in line with the rise of streaming. The meeting does not mean that the two sides have reached an agreement, but it does show greater willingness to strike a deal.

The SAG-AFTRA did not release a statement on the meeting until 8 p.m. LA time. “We have concluded our first day back in the bargaining with the AMPTP and will resume talks on Wednesday, October 4,” it stated, while encouraging actors to join the picket line on Tuesday. “One day longer. One day stronger. As long as it takes,” it ended. No details of the negotiation have been leaked, and both parties decided months ago not to give specific information to the media about the talks until a deal had been struck.

The SAG-AFTRA, which represents more than 160,000 actors, announced last week that they were finally going to sit down with the AMPTP, which represents Paramount, Disney, Universal, Netflix, Amazon, Sony, Warner and Apple. The strike has already led to $6 billion in losses, according to calculations by the state of California.

The talks with the actors union come after Hollywood studios and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) reached an agreement to end the screenwriters strike, which began on May 2 and lasted almost 150 days. The two parties negotiated for days before coming to a tentative deal on September 24. Writers in the union still need to vote on the deal, but it is widely expected to be ratified. If approved, the new collective agreement will be in effect until May 2026.

Just days after the end of the screenwriters strike, the actors union announced that they were set to begin negotiations with the Hollywood studios. But actor Fran Drescher, the president of the SAG-AFTRA, warned they had differing demands. “We’re happy WGA came to an agreement but one size doesn’t fit all,” she told CNN.

The hat, full of pins and badges, of an actor protesting at a strike picket in Manhattan, New York, on September 28, 2023.
The hat, full of pins and badges, of an actor protesting at a strike picket in Manhattan, New York, on September 28, 2023.MIKE SEGAR (REUTERS)

Since the actors’ strike was called in mid-July, tensions have been running high between the union and the Hollywood studios — so much so that it took more than 80 days for them to initiate talks.

The key issues are salaries and artificial intelligence. Now that the WGA has struck a deal, the SAG-AFTRA is alone on the picket line. It is seeking to negotiate a deal that is as good as the “exceptional” agreement achieved by writers.

But analysts warn the union shouldn’t rush to reach a deal, given 160,000 families will be affected by the terms of the new collective contract. “It is not the actors’ responsibility to bring Hollywood back to life,” the Los Angeles Times wrote Monday in an editorial. “It was not the actors who created the problems that forced two incredibly disruptive strikes, any more than it was the writers. The studios created a system in which working actors can no longer earn a living wage in their chosen profession, and it’s up to the studios to change that.”

The strike has put hundreds of workers in grave financial strain. Some of Hollywood’s highest-paid actors have donated millions of dollars to a common fund to help actors navigate these months of uncertainty.

This is the first time actors have been on strike since 1980. So far, it has been an upward battle. Chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland told EL PAÍS that the actors have been willing to negotiate from day one, but that the studios have been reluctant to engage in talks. “We think that there is only one way to reach an agreement, and that is to talk and negotiate. And if they don’t want to talk to us, and they don’t want to negotiate with us, we’re going to be ready to do that any time they’re ready,” she said.

That moment has taken almost three months to arrive. And this time, there will be new talks within 48 hours.

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