Actors vote to approve deal that ended strike, bringing relief to union leaders and Hollywood

SAG-AFTRA captain Mary M. Flynn rallies fellow striking actors on a picket line outside Netflix studios, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
| Photo Credit: Chris Pizzello

Hollywood’s actors have voted to ratify the deal with studios that ended their strike after nearly four months, leaders announced Tuesday.

The approval of the three-year contract from the members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists was no certainty, with some prominent members voicing dissent on the deal for which the union leaders bargained.

The 78% yes result in voting that began Nov. 13 and ended Tuesday was a far cry from the near-unanimous approval and widespread enthusiasm members of the writers guild gave to the deal that ended their strike in September.

But the outcome is a major relief for SAG-AFTRA leaders and an entertainment industry that is attempting to return to normal after months of labour strife. And it brings a final, official end to Hollywood labour’s most tumultuous year in half a century, with two historic strikes that shook the industry.

“This contract is an enormous victory for working performers, and it marks the dawning of a new era for the industry,” the union said in a tweet announcing the results Tuesday evening.

Just over 38% of members cast votes, SAG-AFTRA said.

“More yes votes than I expected and very happy to see because despite loud voices of complaint on social media, it shows the membership is still strong and united,” actor “Can’t Hardly Wait” actor Ethan Embry posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Back to work.” A rejection of the agreement would have meant a return to the bargaining table and, with that, the possibility of the actors going back on strike if leaders called for it.

Those leaders had freed actors to return to work, declaring the strike over as soon as the tentative deal was struck Nov. 8 with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios, streaming services and production companies in union negotiations. Two days later, it was approved by the guild’s board with an 86% vote.

“The AMPTP member companies congratulate SAG-AFTRA on the ratification of its new contract, which represents historic gains and protections for performers,” the AMPTP said in a statement Tuesday night. “With this vote, the industry and the jobs it supports will be able to return in full force.” Control over the use of artificial intelligence was the most hard-fought issue in the long, methodical negotiations.

SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher told The Associated Press shortly after the resolution was reached that making sure AI reproductions of actors could only be used with their informed consent and compensation was a “deal breaker” in the talks.

But they did not fight hard enough for some prominent members, including actors Justine Bateman and Matthew Modine, who cited the issue as a reason to vote “no,” and stoked fears many voters would follow their lead.

“I cannot endorse a contract that compromises the independence and financial futures of the performers,” Modine, who ran against Drescher for union president in 2021 and was also among the board members to reject the deal, said in a statement. “It is purposefully vague and demands union members to release their autonomy…. Consent is surrender.” But many other prominent actors voiced strong support for the agreement, including Academy Award winner Jessica Chastain and Colman Domingo, who is getting major Oscars buzz this year for his performance in “ Rustin.” “I believe that we have an incredible deal, I believe it’s thoughtful and it’s about moving the needle forward,” Domingo told the AP last week. “I’m very happy with it. I voted yes.” The contract calls for a 7% general pay increase with further hikes coming in the second and third years of the deal.

The deal also includes a hard-won provision that temporarily derailed talks: the creation of a fund to pay performers for future viewings of their work on streaming services, in addition to traditional residuals paid for the showing of movies or series.

The provision is an attempt to bring payment systems in line with an industry now dominated by streaming, a reality that is almost certain to fuel more labour fights – and possibly more strikes – in the coming years. (AP)

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