Members of the Writers Guild (WGA) have been on strike since May 2 against television and film studio giants like Netflix, Amazon, Sony, Disney, Fox and others. They were joined July 13 by actors in Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. This united strike has effectively shut down studios in Hollywood, New York City and elsewhere.
Actors and writers face similar issues. The studios are using new technology — including digitization, streaming and artificial intelligence — to shrink the workforce and reduce workers’ income. As SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher explains, “the entire business model has been changed.” SAG-AFTRA and WGA members need contracts that reflect the new model and protect their jobs and living standards. (CBS News, July 13) The union is demanding an 11% wage increase for every member.
The video of President Drescher’s militant speech announcing the strike has gone viral, with over 300,000 views. In it she proclaims that, “We stand in solidarity, in unprecedented unity. … Big business cares more about Wall Street than you and your families. … At some point you have to say no, we’re not going to take this anymore.”
This is the first simultaneous strike by both writers and actors since 1960, when they won improvements in health insurance, pension plans and residual payments.
“Residuals are additional compensation paid to performers when a production is shown beyond the original use covered by the initial compensation,” SAG-AFTRA explains on its web site. They are a key issue in the current strike as actors and writers have seen their residual income fall in the midst of rampant inflation. It should be no surprise that the vote of SAG-AFTRA members was 98% in favor of authorizing a strike, which began with the unanimous agreement of the union’s negotiating team and executive board.
During the union’s press conference, SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland drew parallels with the 1960 strike, saying both were “100% necessary.” When the entire negotiating team posed together for photos, they had their fists raised.
More strikes coming!
With the expiration of the United Parcel Service contract with the Teamsters union fast approaching, dozens of Teamsters Local 623 members and supporters from other unions and progressive organizations held a “practice” picket line and rally on July 13 at the main gate of the Hog Island UPS facility in Philadelphia. UPS Teamsters around the country are practicing for a possible strike when their contract expires Aug. 1.
The union is up against the country’s second-largest delivery service, after the U.S. Postal Service, and moves 6% of the entire U.S. gross domestic product. UPS made record profits in 2022. If the 340,000 UPS Teamsters walk out Aug. 1, it will be the largest private sector strike in U.S. history.
On the question of whether there will be a strike, Teamsters International President Sean O’Brien explains that it’s up to UPS. If the company isn’t willing to pay all UPS workers — including the majority who work part time — what they believe they deserve, they are ready to walk the picket line. Over 20,000 members registered for a live update from President O’Brien July 16.
Solidarity between unions is growing. United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain traveled to New Hyde Park, New York, to join President O’Brien in a UPS strike preparation rally. The Teamsters union members will honor UAW picket lines in the event of a strike at Ford, General Motors or Stellantis — or all three — when their contracts with the UAW expire Sept. 14. President Fain declined to begin negotiations with the traditional “handshake across the table” with company representatives, opting instead to shake hands with rank-and-file autoworkers outside the plants.
According to Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) President Sara Nelson, there could be a “Summer of Strikes” as AFA members begin their own practice pickets at Alaska Airlines and United Airlines. “There’s more solidarity than we’ve ever seen before. … It’s everyone across the working class, and that solidarity is rising up, especially with this Gen Z leading us, and we’re not gonna take it anymore!” (MSNBC, July 16)
Joe Piette contributed to this article.