SAG-AFTRA ratifies contract, officially ending historic labor dispute

SAG-AFTRA members voted to ratify their contract, officially ending the longest labor battle in Hollywood history.

The contract was approved with a 78% vote in favour. The participation rate was 38%.

“This contract is a tremendous victory for performers and represents the dawn of a new era for the industry,” Fran Drescher, president of the union, said in a letter to members.

SAG-AFTRA suspended its 118-day strike against major studios on November 8, after reaching a tentative agreement. The agreement must still be ratified to formally end the withdrawal. Had members voted against it, the strike would likely have resumed.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios in the negotiations, issued a statement applauding the vote.

“AMPTP member companies congratulate SAG-AFTRA on the ratification of their new contract, which represents historic gains and protections for performers,” an AMPTP spokesperson said. “With this vote, the industry and the jobs it supports will be able to come back in full force.”

The deal provides a 7% increase in minimum rates in the first year of the contract and a remaining bonus of $40 million for actors on streaming shows.

The deal also provides the first-ever protection against the use of artificial intelligence to duplicate offers. Under the agreement, actors must agree to replicate it, and the intended use of the AI ​​performance must be explained in “reasonably specific” terms.

For some actors, language was not enough to allay their fears of being replaced by artificial intelligence. The contract does not prevent studios from training AI on images of actors to create “synthetic” performers who do not resemble any real-life actor.

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The union sought to give itself veto power over such use, but the studios refused, agreeing only to give notice to the union. The deal also stipulates that if any “synthetic” performer includes a recognizable facial feature of a real actor, that actor must consent to that use.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the union’s chief negotiator, has spent much of the past few weeks responding to members’ concerns about AI provisions. He repeatedly admitted that the agreement was not “perfect”, but claimed that it was the best agreement that the Union could have concluded with the influence it enjoyed.

“We reached an agreement at our culmination point in this process,” he said.

Drescher argued throughout the strike that the union needed to find a new source of revenue to compensate actors who appear on streaming platforms. At one point, the union was seeking $500 million annually, which would come from a valuation of 57 cents per live stream subscriber.

The union didn’t come close, but it did get a new remaining bonus of $40 million, which was modeled on a similar deal given to the Writers Guild of America. The deal provides a 75% residual bonus to actors who appear in the most-watched live shows. Another 25% — or about $10 million in the first year — will go to the Success Rewards Distribution Fund, which will distribute money more broadly to actors on other streaming shows destined for streaming.

The union wanted the entire bonus to go to the fund, but settled on 25%. The fund will be jointly managed by the union and the studios. Union leaders said they would prioritize adding more money to the fund in future negotiations.

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The deal also includes regulations around self-recorded auditions, online casting platforms, and tailor-made hair and makeup for diverse actors, among many other provisions.

SAG-AFTRA announced the strike on July 13, after talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers collapsed. Actors joined the WGA on picket lines, marking the first time actors and writers have gone on strike since 1960.

The turnout and margin of support were higher than the last ratification vote in 2020. That year, 74% voted to approve the contract with a turnout of 27%.

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