Dozens of members of Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) held a rally at Love Park in Philadelphia July 20. They were joined by an equal number of Philadelphia area unionists, including members of the Writers Guild (WGA) who are also on strike, Teamsters Local 623 representing workers at UPS, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and others in a strong show of solidarity.
The highlights of the rally were the energetic talks by actors Sheryl Lee Ralph and Lisa Ann Walter from the popular TV show “Abbott Elementary,” set in Philadelphia.
Walter said: “When the world sees people on television and movies, they figure they’ve got it made; they’re all millionaires; they have several yachts. As the years have gone on, the business has paid those of us who are not the $20 million actors less and less and less until it is just about basic wages.” She spoke of problems she faced trying to raise four children in Los Angeles earlier in her career when her income was barely above minimum wage.
“This is not about your favorite stars on TV or in motion pictures,” Ralph told the crowd. “Eighty percent of our union is made up of plain old ordinary people trying to make a living.” Stressing the importance of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA striking at the same time, she said: “For the first time since the 1960s, both unions said enough is enough, and we demand more.”
Veteran actor David Morse and local elected officials and labor leaders spoke at the rally. Morse, whose work includes “The Green Mile,” Philadelphia-shot “12 Monkeys,” and “Hack,” about a Philadelphia taxi driver, told the crowd: “The studios want to make us poorer and themselves richer. There was always an excuse as to why they couldn’t make our lives better. AI is the excuse now.”
Nicole Izanec, president of SAG-AFTRA Philadelphia, noted that most members of the local union are, “working to be middle class; the ones who are middle class are working to keep it.” She addressed a key strike issue: health insurance. “Qualifying for health care every year isn’t a given by any means. Union members must make at least $26,470 from their acting work in a given year to be eligible for coverage.”
Some 11,000 members of the Writers Guild have been on strike since May 2 against television and film studio giants like Netflix, Amazon, Sony, Disney, Fox and others. They were joined on July 13 by 160,000 actors in SAG-AFTRA. This united strike has effectively shut down studios in Hollywood, New York City and elsewhere.