End of the soap opera: after months of strike, Hollywood actors have ratified an agreement with the studios, putting an end to a strike of several months which disrupted the cinema industry, their union announced Tuesday, December 6. SAG-AFTRA indicated that 78% of its voting members approved this new multi-year contract.
The formation specified that 38% of its 160,000 members voted. A simple majority was required to ratify the agreement. Entertainment industry lawyer Jonathan Handel said a vote with between 75 and 85 percent in favor of ratification was “a realistic expectation.”
Concluded after 118 days of strike, the agreement notably includes a significant increase in minimum salaries and a bonus system for actors starring in a film or series that is successful during its streaming. It also provides an envelope of more than a billion dollars in compensation and benefits for actors.
“This is a golden age for SAG-AFTRA and our union has never been stronger,” SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher said in a statement. “It’s D-Day,” predicted Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA’s chief negotiator. “This is an agreement worth a billion dollars which includes many very important advances in areas such as AI, minimums, streaming money,” he recalled. An agreement of which I am very proud.”
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents Netflix Inc., Walt Disney and other studios, welcomed the ratification of this new collective agreement. “With this vote, the industry and its jobs will be able to come back in force,” praised the AMPTP in a press release.
Although perceived as a formality, the ratification left the industry somewhat nervous, with certain terms of the contract arousing clear opposition from stakeholders, particularly on AI. “The contract is crap,” said Michael Vaccaro, who is among the dozens of actors publicly engaged against ratification, before the vote. “I voted against it. And I am completely ready to resume the strike. Absolutely, 100%, assured the actor. By signing this contract, we gain nothing. By resuming the strike, we can gain a lot.”
The agreement intends to establish safeguards against the use of artificial intelligence (AI), a first. Performers fear they will soon be replaced by entirely digital “actors,” generated by artificial intelligence by stitching together body parts of many different humans from film archives. The contract does not prevent studios from using AI, but it does contain a clause requiring them to notify the union each time they use the technology.
SAG-AFTRA would then have the right to negotiate compensation on behalf of affected actors, even though critics say they would be difficult to identify. Opponents of ratification also judged that the audience required to generate the payment of a bonus linked to streaming was too high, which would only benefit the best-off players.