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Biggest Hollywood strike in decades: SAG-AFTRA walks out after negotiations collapse

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

Hollywood actors have gone on strike - the biggest strike to hit the film and TV industry in decades.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRAN DRESCHER: The jig is up, AMPTP. We stand tall. You have to wake up and smell the coffee. We are labor, and we stand tall. And we demand respect.

FLORIDO: That's actor Fran Drescher calling out the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the group that represents major studios and streamers. Drescher is now president of SAG-AFTRA. The union walked out today after negotiations with the studios collapsed. The strike by SAG-AFTRA's performers on top of an ongoing strike by Hollywood writers means Hollywood is effectively shut down. I want to bring in Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. He's national executive director and chief negotiator for SAG-AFTRA. He has been key in these talks. And I'd like to first mention that NPR employees are also members of SAG-AFTRA, but we are not on strike because broadcast journalists are covered under a different contract. That said, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, can you give us the top reason that negotiations with the studios have fallen through?

DUNCAN CRABTREE-IRELAND: Sure. And thanks for having me on, Adrian. Yeah, the top reason really is that the companies have been unwilling to engage on the key issues that are the center of these negotiations, whether it's their refusal to agree to increases in minimum salaries to make sure that our members are making the - you know, not making less money today than they were making in 2020, whether it's the insistence on ignoring our proposals regarding sharing money in the streaming world or whether it's their insistence on proposals in artificial intelligence that really don't provide the kind of protection that our members expect and need against the unrestrained use of that technology.

FLORIDO: I'm looking at the statement that the group representing studios in these contract negotiations has just put out, and they say that this strike is your fault, that you've walked away from their offer of big pay increases - the most in 35 years, according to them - a 76% increase in the residuals that actors will earn from streaming services, improvements to health and pension plans. And they say that they are offering protections against artificial intelligence in the industry. What do you say to that?

CRABTREE-IRELAND: Well, I say that's a whole bunch of spin that's just not accurate. I mean, one of the so-called protections that they offered us two days ago in artificial intelligence is that our background actor members would work for one day, get paid for one day, have their bodies scanned, and then the company would have the right to use that scan not just for that project, but for any project ever in the future, for eternity, without any consent and without any compensation. So if that's the kind of protections that they're offering in artificial intelligence, then I think we are going to have to think again. And as far as these so-called, you know, amazing wage increases, they're offering a 5% wage increase in the first year, which doesn't account for inflation in any way, as any of us who are out here working for a living know. And so our members will be behind the times. They will be working in 2026 for less money than - in real dollars than they made in 2020. It's just not true.

FLORIDO: As I said earlier, this strike is the biggest to hit Hollywood in decades. And if previous strikes are a guide, this could cost the industry billions of dollars. Many of your actors are not high-paid actors. Like you said, you're working actors.

CRABTREE-IRELAND: That's right.

FLORIDO: So how is SAG-AFTRA planning to mitigate the impact of this strike on your membership?

CRABTREE-IRELAND: Well, first of all, our members know precisely the risk that we're taking in doing - in going on strike. And it's a risk that is worth taking because what we're fighting for is existential. It's the protection from AI. It's basic fairness. It's economic fairness. And so our members - you know, they are ready. That's demonstrated by the 98% yes vote we received on our strike authorization from a larger turnout than we've ever had in the history of this union. As far as what the union's going to do to help our members, we have an emergency assistance fund that's set up through our foundation, and our members will have recourse in the event of that. But the harm caused by this strike is going to be significant. But the companies have the key. They could have signed the deal yesterday, and they can come back to the table anytime.

FLORIDO: I've been speaking with Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, national executive director and chief negotiator for SAG-AFTRA. Thanks for your time.

CRABTREE-IRELAND: Thank you, Adrian. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Noah Caldwell
Ashley Brown
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Carol Klinger
Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.