By Lisa Richwine and Dawn Chmielewski
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -Striking Hollywood actors were joining film and television writers on picket lines on Friday, the first day of a dual work stoppage that has forced U.S. studios to shutter productions as workers battle over pay in the streaming TV era.
The twin strikes, the first such joint effort in more than 60 years, will add to the economic damage from the writers’ walkout that started on May 2, delivering another blow to the multi-billion-dollar industry as it struggles with changes to its business.
Unions nationwide have been taking harder lines in negotiations over better wages and benefits, from railroad employees and airline pilots to Amazon and Starbucks workers. The largest U.S. autoworkers’ union and UPS employees are also in the midst of contract talks that could be lengthy.
Both SAG-AFTRA — Hollywood’s largest union, representing 160,000 film and television actors — and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) are demanding increases in base pay and residuals, or fees paid from streaming television, plus assurances that their work will not be replaced by artificial intelligence(AI).
The actors’ union announced the strike after failing to reach a deal with studios, including Walt Disney Co and Netflix Inc. The strike began at midnight and officials said actors would join picket lines in New York and Los Angeles from Friday morning.
The WGA’s work stoppage has rippled through California and beyond, hitting caterers, prop suppliers and others who rely on Hollywood productions for business. The economic damage is expected to spread after actors join the picket lines.
Fran Drescher, former star of “The Nanny” TV show and the president of SAG-AFTRA, said the contract offer from the studios was very far apart from the actors’ demands, claiming the studios wasted a 12-day extension in talks. She linked the actors’ fight to a broader surge in labor union activity in the United States.
“We are the victims here,” Drescher said at a press conference on Thursday. “We are being victimized by a very greedy entity.”
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the group that negotiates on behalf of studios, said it had offered significant gains to union members. They included the highest percentage increase in minimum pay levels in 35 years and “groundbreaking” protections around the use of actors’ images by generative AI, the organization said.
“Rather than continuing to negotiate, SAG-AFTRA has put us on a course that will deepen the financial hardship for thousands who depend on the industry for their livelihoods,” the AMPTP said.
The strike by roughly 11,500 writers has sent late-night television talk shows into endless reruns, disrupted most production for the autumn TV season and halted work on big-budget movies.
The broader arts and culture fields, including those working in industries that support the arts, contribute about 4% of U.S. gross domestic product, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis from 2021. That figure rises to nearly 8% for California, though TV and film production is a subset of that broader figure.
The actors’ walkout will shut down the studios’ remaining U.S.-based productions of film and scripted television and hamper many overseas shoots.
Many streaming services have yet to turn a profit after companies spent billions of dollars on programming to try and attract customers.
Britain’s main entertainment industry union, Equity, said it backed its U.S. counterpart and would be bringing up many of the same issues in its own contract negotiations over the next 12 months.
The Hollywood action would have a growing impact on the global industry, including in Britain, if locals were working on projects with people on SAG-AFTRA contracts, Equity General Secretary Paul Fleming said in an interview.
“The longer it goes on, the bigger the impact,” he said.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine and Dawn Chmielewski; Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian in London and Jonathan Allen in New York; editing by Barbara Lewis and Rosalba O’Brien)
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