As the Screen Actors Guild — American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) union optimistically enters the final weeks of their contract negotations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), registered members are calling on leadership to take a firm stance against any and all proposals involving AI.
Earlier this month, ahead of upcoming industrywide TV and theatrical contract negotiations, SAG-AFTRA announced that 47.69% of its eligible members – or roughly 65,000 individuals – had voted 97.91% in favor of authorizing a strike.
According to their official website, the “major issues” that are expected to be discussed in the negotiations include “economic fairness, residuals, regulating the use of AI and alleviating the burdens of the industry-wide shift to self-taping.”
“Technology has advanced at a rapid pace,” wrote the guild. “Artificial intelligence has already proven to be a real and immediate threat to the work of our members and can mimic members’ voices, likenesses and performances. We must get agreement around acceptable uses, bargain protections against misuse, and ensure consent and fair compensation for the use of your work to train AI systems and create new performances.”
In a June 27th open letter, over 300 registered SAG-AFTRA members – including Superman voice actor Tim Daly, Bros star Billy Eichner, X-Men: Dark Phoenix actress Jennifer Lawrence, Star Trek actor Zachary Quinto, as well as Marvel stars Don Cheadle and Mark Ruffalo – made a direct plea to union negotiation leaders that they fight for their AI-related demands.
“Thank you for your hard work and your leadership navigating through this difficult negotiation in a truly unprecedented time,” began the letter. “As SAG-AFTRA members, we’ve been impressed over the last few months by how our leadership outlined the unique stakes of the negotiations and the need for a realignment in our industry.”
“We were glad to see SAG-AFTRA lead the way among the guilds in identifying AI as a threat to our livelihoods that must be addressed right now, a game changer,” it continued. “We felt as though you understood how wildly our pay and our residuals have been undermined, how long we’re being held between seasons.”
“We’ve been filled with pride watching the union come together and deliver such an incredibly strong strike authorization vote,” the union members wrote. “But solidarity demands honesty, and we need to make clear our resolve. A strike brings incredible hardships to so many, and no one wants it. But we are prepared to strike if it comes to that. And we are concerned by the idea that SAG-AFTRA members may be ready to make sacrifices that leadership is not.
“We hope you’ve heard the message from us, ” it added. “This is an unprecedented inflection point in our industry, and what might be considered a good deal in any other years is simply not enough.”
“We feel that our wages, our craft, our creative freedom, and the power of our union have all been undermined in the last decade,” the signees stated “We need to reverse those trajectories. With inflation and continued growth in streaming, we need a seismic realignment of our minimum pay and new media residuals, our exclusivity carveouts, and other terms. We also think it’s absolutely vital that the deal restore dignity to the casting process by regulating how self-tapes are used.”
“This is an enormous problem for working class actors,” they then declared. “And especially as regards Artificial Intelligence, we do not believe that SAG-AFTRA members can afford to make halfway gains in anticipation of that more will be coming in three years, and we think it is absolutely vital that this negotiation protects not just our likenesses, but makes sure we are well compensated when any of our work is used to train AI. We want you to know that we would rather go on strike than compromise on these fundamental points, and we believe that, if we settle for a less than transformative deal, the future of our union and our craft will be undermined, and SAG-AFTRA will enter the next negotiation with drastically reduced leverage.”
“This is not a moment to meet in the middle, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that the eyes of history are on all of us,” the letter ultimately asserted. “We ask that you push for all the change we need and protections we deserve and make history doing it. If you are not able to get all the way there, we ask that you use the power given to you by us, the membership, and join the WGA on the picket lines. For our union and its future, this is our moment. We hope that, on our behalf, you will meet that moment and not miss it.”
Following its publication, the letter’s number of signees skyrocketed from over 300 to over 1,000, with new supporters including Joker star Joaquin Phoenix, Star Wars star Ewan McGregor, The Last of Us star Pedro Pascal, and SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher.
Meanwhile, SAG-AFTRA recently announced that negotiations with the AMPTP have been extended. In light of this, the expiration date for their current agreement has been pushed back from June 30th to July 12th.