In what seems like something of a surprise, the California State Senate passed Senate Bill 799, which would make California the third state in the nation to pay unemployment benefits to striking workers, after New York and New Jersey. The bill has now moved to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk, though whether or not he will sign it is another question.
At an event last Tuesday, he expressed concern over the debt the bill would incur, especially considering that the state’s unemployment fund is already over $18 billion underwater.
“I think one has to be cautious about that before you enter the conversation about expanding its utilization,” Newsom said, though a decision is expected shortly. California pays $450 per week for a maximum of 26 weeks, and should Newsom sign the bill, the new legislation would go into effect in January. Ironically, the strike could come to an end then, which would make the legislation moot for these purposes, though it would be in effect for any future strikes, which, in this town, is fairly inevitable.
In more immediate strike news, the WGA and AMPTP will be meeting again on Wednesday, which does not directly affect the SAG-AFTRA strike, but a WGA deal is generally agreed to be a precursor to any SAG-AFTRA deal.
A showrunner meeting scheduled for September 15 with the WGA leadership was canceled because of the expected AMPTP meeting. The meeting, which was said to include people like Kenya Barris, Noah Hawley and Sam Esmail, was seen as a way to get more high-profile guild members into the process. That, and to avoid any optics that the guild was at all divided, which would play into the AMPTP’s efforts to divide and conquer.
Meanwhile, at the Toronto International Film Festival, Jessica Chastain gave perhaps the best breakdown of why she supports SAG-AFTRA interim agreements and continuing to work during the strike, and did so in a pitch-perfect 30-second soundbite.
In a red carpet interview she posted to her X (formerly known as Twitter) account, she said: “I’m going to explain it to you in baseball terms. You got the major leagues. And they’re not happy with their contracts. We’re gonna strike. The minor leagues show up and say, ‘Hey, guess what? We’re going to give you the contract you want.’ So the players go, ‘You know what? We’re not going to work for the major leagues. We’re gonna go work for the minor leagues.’ Who do you think the audience goes to see? And now, all of a sudden, the major leagues don’t have any power.”
Chastain was in Toronto, and before that Venice, promoting her new film Memory, for which she served as star and producer. The film received an interim agreement for promotional purposes.
Several days before, in Venice, she admitted to being nervous about appearing in support of her film, but then said, “I am here because SAG-AFTRA has been explicitly clear that the way to support the strike is to post on social media, walk the picket lines and to work and support interim agreement projects. It’s what our national board, our negotiating committee and elected leadership has asked us to do. When indie producers sign these agreements, they are letting the world know, they are letting the AMPTP know that actors deserve fair compensation, they have protections that should be implemented and there should be sharing of streaming revenue. So I hope being here today encourages other producers, encourages actors to show up … Hopefully, we’ll see an end to the strike soon and hopefully, the AMPTP will go back to the table.”
Back in Toronto, SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland launched an attack at AMPTP member Amazon, saying, “These companies would replace their human workers with algorithms. In the case of Amazon, a company that regularly avoids paying billions of dollars in U.S. federal taxes, and spends immense sums on stock buybacks instead of boosting wages for their workers. The assertion that Amazon can’t afford to compensate their employees fairly — that’s absolutely a myth, it’s ridiculous. We cannot continue to allow these huge conglomerates to destroy our communities and the livelihoods of individuals.”
He also declared, “The cracks in the employers’ walls are getting deeper every day,” adding, “These companies made numerous attempts to divide and sow dissent among us, it turns out they have been the ones floundering, unable to settle on a path forward. Everyday rumors abound hinting at the companies’ internal disagreements and divergent agendas. These strikes are hitting where it counts to them.”
Monday, September 18, marked day 67 of the strike. There is no end in sight.
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