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Writers and actors strike continues on

The Hollywood writers and actors guilds hold strong in negotiations against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
Image by Wejdan al Balushi
The strike between the unions has been ongoing since May.

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) remain in an ongoing conflict with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The guilds’ demands highlight the lack of residuals from streaming and the use of artificial intelligence to replace humans in Hollywood. 

The WGA began a strike on May 2, demanding fair regulations for their work in the demanding digital era, with the SAG-AFTRA joining soon after in July. 

The “Minimum Basic Agreement” (MBA) was passed May 2, 2020 and expired on May 1 of this year. The expiration of this agreement is what started negotiations between the WGA and AMPTP. 

The MBA established a minimum wage for writers and was found to only apply to broadcast television. Writers for streaming content have to individually negotiate their wages, causing a gap in pay between broadcast and streaming writers. 

What has gotten worse is who is making money off of the work and how much camaraderie and creativity is lost when writers are forced to work in micro writers’ rooms, not to mention cutting the workforce, and AI seems like the freight train that could cannibalize all creativity,” said co-creator and former head writer of the Daily Show, Lizz Winstead.

The WGA proposal estimates an increase of $429 million a year going towards writers, while the AMPTP counteroffer estimates only $86 million. After weeks of WGA negotiations, the actors guild joined in on the strike.

After the most recent contract between the SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP expired, negotiations for a new one started. Issues in the negotiations were similar to the ones cited by the writers: streaming residuals and artificial intelligence.

“SAG-AFTRA is fighting for wage increases that match inflation. The numbers the AMPTP proposed actually amount to a pay cut,” said SAG-AFTRA Twin Cities Local Board President, Casey Lewis. 

According to Lewis, SAG-AFTRA Twin Cities Local supported recent modifications to a tax credit that will increase job opportunities for actors and entertainers and is anticipated to move to Minnesota. The results of the negotiations will have a direct influence on these jobs.

One proposal from the AMPTP that prompted the strike was the use of digital replicas of actors in a film, meaning an actor can get paid for a day of work and have their likeness generated by AI for the rest of the film.

“Here, the discussion of AI is not simply an abstract fear of future technology, but a real worry that companies will be able to write and rewrite scripts with AI to produce a formulaic product without paying writers,” said Graeme Stout, a film studies coordinator at the University of Minnesota.

As technology progresses, rights and fair residuals remain contentious issues. The strike illustrates the strength of unity and solidarity among industry professionals and how effective collective action can be. 

“The advice I would offer my fellow actor-performers on strike is to stay strong,” Lewis said. “Success with these primary concerns is crucial for us to have any chance at having good job opportunities in film, television and streaming projects.” 

The strike is a watershed moment in the entertainment business. It highlights the complexity of the digital economy and the necessity of fair payment for writers and creatives. The WGA and SAG-AFTRA will continue to strike for change to attain a safe and secure future for writers, actors and other entertainers.

SAG-AFTRA held a rally at the Minnesota State Fair on Sept. 4, which was declared “SAG-AFTRA Solidarity Day” by the Minnesota AFL-CIO, a Minnesota-based federation of labor unions. Union members across multiple trades supported the rally at the Labor Pavillion.

The next SAG-AFTRA Twin Cities rally is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 30 at 1 p.m. in Rice Park, St. Paul.

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