A long-running strike by the Writers Guild of America (WGA) was joined by the largest entertainment union in the country Friday. SAG-AFTRA has approved a massive nationwide walkout in support of the ongoing labor movement. Negotiations have so far failed to resolve the dispute over wages and residuals, and thousands of TV shows and films have been delayed as a result.

Many labor organizations have received a major boost in the U.S. since 2020. While membership numbers have soared in certain industries, many investors have failed to respond to the agitation amidst skyrocketing income inequality. Real wages have gradually fallen across the nation since the 1980s while the earnings of the top 1% of income earners has risen drastically. The COVID-19 restrictions and the subsequent inflation crisis have exacerbated the discrepancy in recent years.

In the largest labor protestation of unsavory working conditions and low pay yet, the Writers Guild of America instructed its 12,000 script writers to stop working in May. Protestors demand more appropriate compensation and job security in the era of streaming. The WGA also sought better living and working conditions, along with guarantees that the writers’ work will not be substituted with Artificial Intelligence.

The governing board of SAG-AFTRA unanimously voted Thursday to join the WGA protest. Effective Friday, the 160,000 Hollywood and TV actors represented by the union will no longer show to work, nor will they advertise upcoming shows and films on their social media platforms. The strike will purportedly continue until the actors, only a tiny fraction of them are household names, are granted an increase in base pay and residuals to keep up with the rising costs of living.

The strike is by far the largest in Hollywood history, and the first time since 1960 that the writers and actors have simultaneously walked out in protest. The timing of the latest strike is particularly decisive, as the industry is undergoing a structural shift in its digital revenue model. The absence of 170,000 workers will bring work on many ongoing projects to an effective halt. Some work, such as post-shoot editing, will continue for the time being, and many major networks have already announced plans to air endless reruns for the fall season.

Fran Drescher, president of the SAG-AFTRA, explained the group’s decision to the media Thursday evening. She characterized the studios’ attitudes towards the labor demands as ‘insulting and disrespectful’. “I am shocked by the way the people that we have been in business with are treating us,” Drescher said of the ongoing negotiations, “I cannot believe it – quite frankly – how far apart we are on so many things. How they plead poverty that they are losing money left and right when giving hundreds of millions to their CEOs. It is disgusting.”

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), representing the largest employers in Hollywood, said it was ‘deeply disappointed’ at SAG-AFTRA’s decision. The AMPTP claimed to have offered the union ‘substantial increases’ in pension payments, healthcare contribution caps, and foreign streaming residuals. It also said the workers will receive the largest rise in minimum wages in 35 years, among other benefits.

Many of the largest media networks in the country are still in transition. Disney, Comcast, NBC Universal, and Paramount have all posted substantial losses in recent quarters. Some of the decline in television subscriptions and ticket sales can be attributed to the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, but much of it reflects the rapid rise of streaming access as a cheaper and convenient alternative to traditional sources. Nonetheless, compensation packages for the CEOs and other top executives of the same studios and networks have continued to climb during the same time.

The SAG-AFTRA announcement came the same day as hundreds of thousands of postal servicemen decided to go on a ten-day strike. The United Parcel Service (UPS) workers, have demanded similar improvements in wages and working conditions in what could turn out to be the costliest union action in modern American history. Put together, the two walkouts have put over 0.2 % of the U.S. labor force out of work for at least a few weeks.

Anthony Tilghman

Anthony Tilghman, is an 3x Award-winning Photojournalist, Education advocate, Mentor, and Published Author with years of experience in media, photography, marketing and branding. He is the Winner of the...

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