The Hollywood labor landscape is shifting as the Writers Guild of America (WGA) edges closer to resolving its historic strike. With a tentative agreement in place, the spotlight now turns to SAG-AFTRA, while IATSE looms on the horizon. This seismic shift in labor negotiations promises to reshape the entertainment industry, but it’s not without its unique challenges.
If you haven’t been up to date with the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes, you can check out our full timeline of the strikes to get a sense of how it started and where it’s going.
The End of WGA’s strike and its implications
After 146 days of picketing, the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) reached a tentative agreement, signaling a potential end to Hollywood’s longest strike. Unlike the Directors Guild, which secured a contract without a strike back in June, the WGA took a stand against “pattern bargaining,” where each union is expected to follow suit with a similar deal.
The WGA’s success in obtaining what some view as significantly better terms than the DGA may set a precedent for SAG-AFTRA’s negotiations. While not necessarily a strict pattern to follow, the WGA deal could serve as a valuable template for addressing SAG-AFTRA’s demands. These demands include improved wages, revised calculations for streaming residuals, and safeguards against potential abuses stemming from artificial intelligence use.
Unique challenges for SAG-AFTRA
SAG-AFTRA, poised to step into negotiations, faces its own distinct set of challenges. Core issues that the DGA and WGA contracts didn’t address, such as minimum staffing and duration of employment in TV writers’ rooms, remain a priority. Additionally, the practice of self-taping auditions has become a contentious issue among actors, exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The guild has called for “reasonable rules and limitations” to govern self-taped auditions, which they argue have become an unregulated and burdensome process. These concerns represent just one facet of the performer-centric needs that SAG-AFTRA seeks to address in its negotiations. Other issues specific to various careers and categories are also on the table.
While tentative agreements on self-taping rules were reached before the strike began, this could serve as a potential starting point for a new deal. However, complications may arise if companies insist that these agreements no longer hold once the strike commenced.
SAG-AFTRA’s concerns about the impact of artificial intelligence on performers may find resonance in the WGA’s deal regarding AI abuses. Adapting and customizing this pattern could help protect performers against the threats posed by AI in the industry.
New agreements for paying residuals
Money, in terms of wages and residuals, remains a significant point of contention.
The Writers Guild of America (WGA) and SAG-AFTRA have proposed new models for streaming residuals. The WGA is advocating for a system that rewards writers based on views, echoing the compensation structure of the past. SAG-AFTRA, on the other hand, suggests tying residuals to streaming revenue attributed to each show by a third-party data firm. These proposals aim to address the unique challenges posed by the streaming era.
SAG-AFTRA is still pushing for an 11% pay increase in the first year of a new contract. However, months without work have already eroded a considerable portion of that potential increase, adding complexity to the negotiations.
Streaming has become the dominant form of television, with residuals making up a significant portion of writers’ income. Adjusted for inflation, residuals have increased by 37% since 2005, with streaming contributing a substantial portion.
IATSE on the horizon
As the actors’ strike eventually concludes, the AMPTP will face negotiations with IATSE in the following year. IATSE members, who have shown solidarity with striking actors and writers, have endured their share of hardships during the strikes. They are likely to seek gains to compensate for lost wages and employer contributions to their pension and health plans.
IATSE’s stance, whether it leans toward avoidance of further strikes or a more militant approach, remains uncertain. However, their experiences during the pandemic and recent labor actions will undoubtedly influence their negotiation strategy.
The end of the WGA strike, which began back in July, while a positive development, is just the beginning of a series of shifts in Hollywood’s labor landscape. As negotiations progress, the industry is poised to evolve, and the outcomes of these labor disputes will play a significant role in shaping its future.
For now, WGA members are preparing to ratify their new deal, following procedures that echo the conclusion of the 2007-08 strike. The return of late-night comedy shows and daytime talk shows is imminent, but films and scripted TV shows not under Interim Agreements with SAG-AFTRA will remain in limbo until the actors’ strike reaches its resolution.
Hollywood is no stranger to labor disputes, but with each negotiation, it inches closer to a new era in the entertainment industry. The ripple effects of these agreements, once finalized, will undoubtedly resonate for years to come.