After a week in which it appeared that things looked especially dire for a quick resolution, the past few days proved to be packed with information that allowed for some sense of hope. With film festival season kicking into gear, there were plenty of opportunities for people involved on both sides of the picket lines to opine on the situation and more than a little news to digest.
To begin with, SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher easily won re-election last week, alongside running mate Joely Fisher as Secretary-Treasurer, which furthers her mandate to negotiate with the AMPTP, whenever the producers decide to come back to the table.
Before we get too far into that, though, there is the genuine possibility of the union adding a second strike, this one focused on video games, which has more than a few issues in common with those of the AMPTP. “These are largely the same fight over the same issues, and members are stronger together,” Drescher and National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said in their latest message to the guild’s members. “By standing shoulder to shoulder and in solidarity, we multiply our strength and send a clear and unmistakable message to all of our employers: We will not be exploited. Without fair terms that protect our members and respect their contributions, employers should not have the benefit of our members’ services.”
Voting on union solidarity with this issue is happening now, and continues until Monday, September 25th.
Along those lines, Warner-Discovery CEO David Zaslav came out swinging with a vaguely positive comment about the situation, saying, “We are really going to fight to get this resolved. I was in LA the last two days, and we really have to focus as an industry — and we are trying — to get this resolved in a way that is really fair and everyone feels fairly treated.”
Talk, as they say, is cheap, and actions speak louder. Zaslav’s company is looking at a loss of $300-500 million in earnings over the last quarter. This seems like a lot, but as Crabtree-Ireland pointed out at the Toronto International Film Festival, “$300M to $500M loss in one quarter from one company can almost pay for the entirety of the proposal package that’s on the table from SAG-AFTRA for three years.”
So while Zaslav and his fellow CEOs fiddle, Hollywood continues to burn, though there was a small window of hope that opened in the WGA talks. As those conversations started up again, conversations we have been covering here, there has been one clear positive to arise from them. The streaming services are apparently open to more transparency on viewing numbers. That said, it didn’t come with any money, so it rings more than a bit hollow.
“It’s a good first step,” Crabtree-Ireland said in Toronto. “It was a proposal to share data with a limited set of viewers with the Writers Guild and they would come back in three years to potentially negotiate over what they thought it would be. We’re not waiting three years to see where streaming is going, we know where streaming is going.”
If all that was the sum total of action this past week, it would be enough, but there was also a rally to support California granting unemployment benefits for striking workers. Currently, those people are not eligible because they left their jobs “voluntarily,” but Senate Bill 799 would change that if makes it through the state legislature and is signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“Our survival should not depend on the whims and fragile egos of would-be dictators,” newly re-elected Secretary-Treasurer Fisher told the rally crowd. “And providing a lifeline for striking workers in the form of unemployment insurance helps to level the playing field in a small way. Withholding our labor from exploitive employers is our right, and we shouldn’t have to court financial ruin to exercise that right. If companies can only get workers to return to their jobs by starving them into submission, then something is very wrong with their business model.”
The state legislature has until Thursday the 14th to send it to the governor’s desk for signature.
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