With contract renewal negotiations between the Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) failing before the extended deadline on July 12, the union representing film and television actors, voice actors, radio personalities and other media professionals officially joined the ongoing strike of the Writers Guild of America (WGA). The result is effectively halting Hollywood production until further notice, except for non-union productions or scabs crossing the picket lines. This marks a historic occasion: The last time writers and actors went on strike together was in 1960. As our chart based on exclusive reporting by Deadline shows, SAG-AFTRA membership was at a record high in 2022.
In 2012, SAG, established in 1933, and AFTRA, founded in 1937, merged to amplify their bargaining power with studio executives and reflect the changing industry. By 2013, the joint union had close to 169,000 members. After a sharp drop in 2014, membership numbers continuously rose every year. In April 2022, according to the union's financial report obtained by Deadline, SAG-AFTRA boasted a historic high of 171,157 regular members across several industries.
Overall, members contributed close to $1 billion in regular membership dues as well as agency fees by around 5,000 financial core non-members, which only pay "that portion of union dues that go directly toward covering the costs of collective bargaining, contract enforcement and contract administration" but not any fees connected to political campaigning and lobbying.
Until the last minute, SAG-AFTRA leaders were convinced a strike could be averted. "I went in thinking that we would be able to avert a strike. The gravity of this move is not lost on me", Fran Drescher, president of SAG-AFTRA, said in a speech on Thursday. "We had no choice. We are the victims here. We are being victimized by a very greedy entity." Two of the main issues addressed in the contract negotiations that began on June 7 were the usage of AI to replicate the likeness of actors and actresses and a dispute over residual payments.
Residuals and AI use, plus the feared abolition of traditional writers' rooms, were also at the heart of negotiations between AMPTP and WGA. The union comprising around 11,500 writers in television, film, radio, and online media went on strike on May 2. According to sources close to the proceedings talking to Deadline, studio execs aren't planning to enter negotiations with writers anytime soon, instead opting to let the strike continue until writers run out of money and are forced to go back to work. With the weight of SAG-AFTRA added to the mix, studio bosses might need to rethink this strategy.