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Kim Black / Gavel Media

WGA and SAG-AFTRA Strikes Explained

“We're Fighting for the Survival of Our Profession”. This is one of many taglines of the current joint strike held by the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). 

Virtually every entertainment product seen on screen, from detergent commercials to Grey’s Anatomy, is created by the effort of members of these workers’ unions. Since July 13 of this year, union bylaws have prevented any members from working for any domestic or foreign production companies. The New England Local branch of SAG-AFTRA, located here in Boston, picketed Boston Common on August 9. 

Why are strikes happening, and why now?

Streaming services are the most popular way to watch television in the United States, surpassing cable television. Firm standards have yet to be set out for how writers and actors should be fairly compensated for their services in making media. According to SAG-AFTRA, most actors in 2026 would be making less money than they did in 2020 due to inflation, even with a 5% wage increase. On their websites, SAG-AFTRA and WGA list the principal reasons for their strike as unfair wages, low pension contribution caps, a lack of royalties and residuals (The WGA wants foreign streaming residuals increased from 8% to 50%), as well as a lack of standards regarding artificial intelligence and how it may be used to create “digital replicas” of actors. The WGA also takes issue with the potential of AI to write scripts (though if my experience trying it for my chemistry homework is anything to go by, AI has a long way to go intellectually).

Is there any precedent for these strikes?

These unions have gone on strike before, though the last general strikes were in the 1980s. This strike has already broken the WGA union's previous strike record of four months. Though the strikes are not new, the issues raised by streaming media are. Due to this, they threaten to extend the negotiations beyond what has been seen before. 

Both the mayor of Los Angeles and the Governor of California have offered to mediate negotiations, which is no surprise considering how important the entertainment industry is to that region.

The WGA strike began on May 2 after a deadline for contract negotiation was not met, and SAG-AFTRA began striking on July 13 under similar conditions. Over one hundred prominent actors including Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, and Bob Odenkirk signed a letter declaring their support for the strike. Negotiations have been ongoing since the start of the strikes, with another session scheduled to begin on Monday.

Why are shows and movies being delayed? Can’t studios just hire more people?

The short answer to this is that yes, studios can technically hire more people, but they would have a hard time doing so. Both unions have rules stating that anyone who works for a studio during a general strike will be denied future union membership. Actors and writers’ unions are not like, for example, teachers’ unions, where some regions have them, but some don’t. If a professional is barred from joining an entertainment union, it is comparable to being permanently blacklisted from the industry. Consequently, productions still in the filming and writing phase have been stopped, with some movie release dates moving years down the line.

So, will Grey’s Anatomy be renewed for season two million and six? No one will know any time soon. The US film industry employs about 2.5 million people, and the actors and writers are at a disadvantage. However, any of the workers, such as makeup artists, animators, and those who work on the business side of studios who are not part of the strike, are still losing wages, nonetheless. If an agreement is not reached, the strikers or the producers will need to relent or many will simply lose their livelihoods. Strikes can never last too long, and often just become dangerous games of chicken in which the side with more money stockpiled has the upper hand.

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