What is going on with the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes?

Freddie Parker on 28 July 2023
Members of the Writers Guild of America on strike

We’re watching history unfold as two of the biggest unions in Hollywood go on strike. But how did we get here?

With both the writers and actors taking part in strikes, production has come to a grinding halt. All the major studios have been affected, but some projects are still going on. So, why are they striking and why are some things still going ahead?

Why are WGA and SAG-AFTRA striking?

They have similar concerns, just with different applications. Most of the compensation concerns come from streaming services having low minimums and residuals. Those on the picket lines are pushing for:

  • Increased residuals and minimums in line with inflation and revenue.
  • Compensation for all stages of the production process.
  • Protection from replacement with generative AI.

WGA members have a few more specific issues like wanting increased contributions to pensions and health insurance. 

But they’re all rich already aren’t they?

No, not really. Main cast actors in major pictures may be millionaires, yes, but that’s not the case for most of the union members. Writing teams are made up of junior to senior writers. Background actors help build the ambience, making any project more immersive and realistic. Even actors who feature prominently in successful shows have shown they don’t receive anywhere near the same as those working on network TV.

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Why are some projects continuing?

There are two main reasons why some films and shows can continue:

  • The project is governed by a different union.
  • The project has been approved by SAG-AFTRA and WGA.

For example, House of the Dragon has been able to continue production as most of the actors belong to UK acting union Equity. Legally, Equity members are prevented from striking in solidarity with US actors.

@robyn_holdaway Actor's strike, UK information. Support the strikers! Join your union. #actor #acting #actorstrike #strike #fyp ♬ original sound - Robyn Holdaway

But we also might see an indie movie renaissance. One studio allowed to continue production is A24, who have met the demands of the unions. It’s interesting to note that a studio famous for low-budget productions is able to meet the writers’ and actors’ needs.

How are studios making it more difficult for those striking?

In a leaked communication, studio directors conspired to let the strikes continue until people started losing apartments and insurance. Fortunately, both unions have set up strike funds for those impacted, no doubt backed by some of the more well-off members of the unions.

Universal Studios received a small fine for trimming trees outside their building without a permit. While they claim it’s been done for any other reason, it’s convenient for them that it reduces the shade available for those striking in California’s summer heat.

Many other studios have begun construction work that cuts access to the pavement outside their buildings. All this seems to demonstrate a hostility towards the picketing members and an unwillingness to negotiate.

When will the strikes end?

There’s no fixed date set by the unions, but as it’s the first time both unions have struck since 1960, the standstill might nudge the studios. It’s all about the negotiations now. Hopefully, the indie productions continuing due to meeting the conditions will add to the pressure and get them the contracts they deserve.

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Cover image courtesy of Fabebk, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Freddie Parker
Freddie Parker on 28 July 2023