SAG-AFTRA Strike: Hollywood actors join writers on picket lines for 1st time in more than 60 years

It's official. 

For the first time in more than 60 years, SAG-AFTRA actors had joined writers on the picket lines beginning Friday after the National Board voted unanimously to issue a strike order to have members walk off the job. 

It’s the first strike for actors from film and television shows since 1980. And it’s the first time two major Hollywood unions have been on strike at the same time since 1960, when Ronald Reagan was the actors’ guild president.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, executive director of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Radio and Television Artists, said at a news conference that the union leadership voted for the work stoppage hours after their contract expired and talks broke off with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers representing employers including Disney, Netflix, Amazon and others.

"A strike is an instrument of last resort," he said. Union leaders said they voted unanimously for a strike to begin at midnight. Outside Netflix’s Hollywood offices, picketing screenwriters chanted "Pay Your Actors!" immediately after the strike was announced.

"It came with great sadness that we came to this crossroads," union President Fran Drescher said.

"But we had no choice. We are the victims here. We are being victimized by a very greedy entity. I am shocked by the way the people that we have been in business with are treating us. I cannot believe it, quite frankly, how far apart we are on so many things.

"How they plead poverty, that they're losing money left and right, when giving hundreds of millions of dollars to the CEOs. It is disgusting. Shame on them. They stand on the wrong side of history at this very moment."

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Drescher went on to say, that "at some point, the gig is up -- you cannot keep being dwindled and marginalized and disrespected and dishonored.

"It weighed heavy on us," she added. "But at some point, you have top say no, we're not going to take this anymore. You people are crazy. What are you doing? Why are you doing this?"

"The studios and streamers have implemented massive unilateral changes in our industry's business model, while at the same time insisting on keeping our contracts frozen in amber," Crabtree said. "That's not how you treat a valued, respected partner and essential contributor. Their refusal to meaningfully engage with our key proposals and the fundamental disrespect shown to our members is what has brought us to this point. The studios and streamers have underestimated our members' resolve, as they are about to fully discover."

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"Employers make Wall Street and greed their priority and they forget about the essential contributors that make the machine run," former "Drescher said. "Shame on them. They are on the wrong side of history."

With a stoppage looming, the premiere of Christopher Nolan’s film "Oppenheimer" in London was moved up an hour so that the cast could walk the red carpet before the SAG board’s announcement.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers issued a statement Thursday regarding the contract negotiations.

"We are deeply disappointed that SAG-AFTRA has decided to walk away from negotiations," the AMPTP said in a statement. "This is the Union's choice, not ours. In doing so, it has dismissed our offer of historic pay and residual increases, substantially higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors' digital likenesses, and more. Rather than continuing to negotiate, SAG-AFTRA has put us on a course that will deepen the financial hardship for thousands who depend on the industry for their livelihoods."

Amid a flurry of 11th-hour activity on Tuesday, the SAG-AFTRA union announced it had agreed to a "last-minute request" by the AMPTP for federal mediation, but it refused to again extend its existing labor contract past the 11:59 p.m. Wednesday negotiating deadline.

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"We will not be distracted from negotiating in good faith to secure a fair and just deal by the expiration of our agreement," according to the union statement. "We are committed to the negotiating process and will explore and exhaust every possible opportunity to make a deal, however we are not confident that the employers have any intention of bargaining toward an agreement."

Leaders of a Hollywood’s actors union voted Thursday to join screenwriters in the first joint strike in more than six decades, shutting down production across the entertainment industry after talks for a new contract with the studios and streaming s

The union also blasted a report that emerged earlier Tuesday in the trade publication Variety, suggesting that various Hollywood heavyweights -- including Disney CEO Bob Iger, Netflix's Ted Sarandos and Warner Bros./Discovery's David Zaslav -- had initiated the idea of federal mediation. According to the union, the story was published "before our negotiators were even told of the request for mediation."

"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," according to the union.

SAG-AFTRA's contract was initially set to expire on June 30, but the union and the AMPTP agreed to an extension so they could continue talks. The actors union represents about 160,000 performers.

The actors' union is focusing on many of the same issues that pushed the Writers Guild of America union to call a strike on May 2, including calls for revised residual formulas for streaming content and protections against the use of artificial intelligence in film and TV production.

Negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP began on June 7.

Members of the Writers Guild of America East are joined by SAG-AFTRA members as they picket at the Warner Bros. Discovery NYC office on July 13, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

The AMPTP has already reached a three-year contract deal with the Directors Guild of America. The pact was overwhelmingly ratified by DGA members on June 24.

The DGA-AMPTP deal includes a 12.5% salary increase over a three-year period for directors, plus a "substantial" increase in residuals for streaming content -- including a 76% increase in foreign residuals for the largest platforms and mutual confirmation that artificial intelligence is not a person and cannot replace the duties performed by DGA members.

That deal came after less than a month of negotiations, ahead of a June 30 expiration of the DGA's previous contract.

The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.