By now, you have heard that SAG-AFTRA members went on strike last week, joining the already-in-progress WGA strike that began on May 1st. This is, of course, a big deal. The last time actors and writers went on strike at the same time (nearly 65 years ago), Kennedy was president, Percy Smith’s Theme from “A Summer Place” topped the pop charts, and Gunsmoke was the nation’s favorite TV show. In other words, a long time ago.

In this post, I briefly outline the key things that ad agencies and brands need to know about the strike.

1.  Which collective bargaining agreements are subject to the strike?  SAG-AFTRA’s national board ordered a strike of all services covered under the Producer-SAG-AFTRA Codified Basic Agreement and SAG-AFTRA Television Agreements and their related agreements listed below (“TV/Theatrical Contracts”) after the union failed to reach a deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (“AMPTP”), the entity that represents major studios and streaming platforms in the negotiations. Specifically, the strike covers work under these collective bargaining agreements:

  • Producer-SAG-AFTRA Codified Basic Agreement
  • SAG-AFTRA Television Agreement (includes New Media)
  • SAG-AFTRA New Media Agreement for High Budget Original or Derivative Programs
  • Special New Media Agreements
  • Low Budget Theatrical Agreement (LBA)
  • Moderate Low Budget Project Agreement (MPA)
  • Ultra Low Budget Project Agreement (UPA)

2.  What work is impacted by the strike?  The strike covers all work under the TV/Theatrical Contracts for AMPTP producers, including:

  • On-camera work (e.g., acting, singing, dancing, and stunts)
  • Off-camera work (e.g., ADR/looping, voice acting, narration, and singing)
  • Rehearsals
  • Auditions
  • Publicity (e.g., interviews, personal appearances, festivals, premieres, award shows, and social media).

That’s right: the strike covers award shows, leading many to speculate that the Emmy Awards ceremony (originally scheduled for September 18th) will be delayed.

3.  Does the strike apply to work in commercials, co-ed productions and other advertising?  The strike covers only work under the TV/Theatrical Contracts; it does not cover work under other SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreements, including those that are most relevant to the ad industry: the SAG-AFTRA Commercials Contracts, the SAG-AFTRA Audio Commercials Contract, and the SAG-AFTRA Corporate/Educational & Non-Broadcast Contract. Each of these agreements includes a “No-Strike Clause” in which the union agrees not to strike and to instruct its members to perform their contractual duties. As the Joint Policy Committee noted in a bulletin issued immediately after the strike was announced: “the SAG-AFTRA TV/Theatrical Contracts are separate from the SAG-AFTRA Commercials Contract and will have no impact on Union actors who work in commercials” (emphasis in original). And the union has informed its members that they “can and should keep working under various other contracts.” (See also this post.)

The strike also doesn’t cover work outside SAG-AFTRA’s jurisdiction, including work in print campaigns and personal appearances. 

4.  Why are members striking?  There are a lot of issues that separate the bargaining parties. Two issues, however, are paramount. First, the actors want a new contract that provides fair compensation for new modes of distribution - in particular, streaming. Second, actors want protections regarding how emerging digital technologies, especially Artificial Intelligence, are used to manipulate their likenesses and voices. Actors are not alone in fearing being supplanted by AI.

SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher passionate remarks at the press conference announcing the strike demonstrate that passions are running high.

5.  How long will the strike last?  It is anyone’s guess how long the strike will last. Months, probably. Drescher has told reporters that the union is in for the long haul.

6.  Where can I get updates on the strike?  SAG-AFTRA launched a website with information pertaining to the strike, including helpful summaries describing work that is subject to the strike, and work that is not subject to the strike