SAG/AFTRA: Actors' Unions "Strike Out" Against Themselves


I'll admit it: along with everyone else in Hollywood I have serious strike fatigue. And I'm really hoping--or the sake of my favorite TV shows as well as for the Los Angeles economy--that we do NOT have an actors strike.

The Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of TV and Radio Artists contracts expire on June 30, and the two guilds were expected to bargain together. But just ahead of their Saturday meeting to approve a joint negotiating strategy they broke their alliance and are now bargaining separately. The result is complicated. The guilds have less power if negotiating separately, but that doesn't mean that they'll strike a deal with the media companies any faster.

The two guilds likely split over how eager they are to strike a deal. AFTRA is smaller (70,000 actors), and much more eager to settle its new contract and avoid a strike. It released a statement saying it plans to start talks with the producers association ASAP.

The Screen Actors Guild (120,000 actors) has been much pushier about making gains, and more vocal about being willing to strike. But SAG doesn't want AFTRA to make a deal that would set the precedent for its own agreement. So the head of SAG said it might have to "move much more quickly than we wanted to."

It seems inefficient to negotiate separately--the two unions have 40,000 people in common, and both unions are asking for the same thing--digital revenues the Writers Guild made gains on and more compensation from DVDs. It sounds like AFTRA starting talks should push SAG to start talks soon.

And despite all their bluster I just don't think SAG will really strike. Why? People will simply have no pity for movie stars on the picket lines. Big actors know that it'll only be bad PR if they're complaining that their multi-million dollar salaries aren't enough.

And without big names pushing for the cause, it'll be hard to pull off a strike. The real risk is that so many of SAG's 120,000 members are unemployed, which means they have little to lose from a strike. But even if they vote to authorize a strike, I bet SAG leadership will make a deal. Hollywood is struck-out.

Questions? Comments?