Supervisor Elham AbolFateh
Editor in Chief Mohamed Wadie

SAG-AFTRA, Studio CEOs Return to Bargaining Table

Mon 02 Oct 2023 | 11:15 PM
File photo
File photo
Yara Sameh

SAG-AFTRA and the Hollywood studios and streamers are back at the bargaining table Monday for the first time in more than two and a half months.

They have a long way to go to make a deal – even with the momentum gained by the end of the writers’ strike.

“No one is going into this overly confident or assuming it’s going to be easier because the writers have made their deal,” a well-positioned guild member said about the renewed talks.

“Let’s be cautious, there is some serious ‘wait and see’ here,” the SAG-AFTRA member added. “Wait and see what they bring new to the table, what they are willing to reconsider. Wait and see if they have really changed their tune or if this is the old AMPTP back in the room.”

Following the expiration of their contract on June 30 and a nearly two-week extension in negotiations, the 160,00-strong actors union went out on strike on July 14. Ever since, they have picketed studio gates and headquarters alongside the Writers Guild of America, which went on strike May 2. 

After five days of whirlwind talks over previously “intractable” issues like AI protections, data transparency, significantly increased residuals and writers' room staffing, the scribes and studio CEOs reached an “exceptional,” as the WGA called it, a tentative agreement on September 24 just before sundown.

As was the case in that final and successful round of deliberations with the WGA, Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers chief Carol Lombardini will be joined on the employers’ side Monday by NBCUniversal’s Donna Langley, Warner Bros Discovery’s David Zaslav, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos and Disney’s Bob Iger. 

Meeting at the SAG-AFTRA offices on Wilshire’s Miracle Mile, Lombardini and the CEO Gang of Four will face the guild’s negotiating committee led by recently re-elected president Fran Drescher; National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland; and Ray Rodriguez, SAG-AFTRA’s longtime Chief Contracts Officer.

And like the WGA before it, SAG-AFTRA is shifting the paradigm of typical industry talks by hosting negotiations at its Los Angeles offices. Usually, the AMPTP holds talks at a large conference room at its building inside the Sherman Oaks Galleria shopping mall, which gives it a home-court advantage. 

The WGA flipped the script in its 2023 talks by hosting Iger, Zaslav, Sarandos, and Langley at its boardroom for multiple days in late September.

Moreover, no Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service mediators will be present at Monday’s meeting, as two were before the union called a strike in July. The AMPTP initially requested federal help at that point, which left SAG-AFTRA bristling but eventually agreeing to a single day of intervention. 

The bargaining session took place over 80 days into the actors' strike, which shut down all production over the summer that hadn’t already been scrapped due to the contemporaneous writers' strike. 

The WGA work stoppage concluded on Sept. 26 following the news of its tentative deal, which was struck the same week the CEOs entered the conversation. Now, the industry is anxiously waiting to see if the actors' strike can be wrapped up on a similar timeline. 

In a member update Monday, the SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee asked its members not to “let up” by turning up to the picket lines and speaking out about the union’s top issues this cycle. “We will continue to communicate updates with you directly,” the committee wrote. “One day longer. One day stronger. As long as it takes.”