Hollywood studios, actors agree to mediation as strike deadline looms

July 12, 2023 - 5:27 PM
Writers Guild of America
Workers and supporters of the Writers Guild of America protest outside Universal Studios Hollywood after union negotiators called a strike for film and television writers, in the Universal City area of Los Angeles, California, U.S., May 3, 2023. (Reuters/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo)

LOS ANGELES — Negotiators for the SAG-AFTRA actors union agreed late Tuesday to call in a federal mediator to try to forge a last-minute agreement with Hollywood studios and avoid a second simultaneous strike in the entertainment business.

The 160,000 members of SAG-AFTRA, Hollywood’s largest union, have authorized a strike if a new labor deal cannot be reached before midnight on Wednesday. The Writers Guild of America has been on strike since early May.

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In a statement late on Tuesday, SAG-AFTRA said it was sticking with the Wednesday deadline and would “exhaust every possible opportunity to make a deal.”

“However we are not confident that the employers have any intention of bargaining toward an agreement,” the statement said.

SAG-AFTRA is demanding higher compensation in the streaming TV era plus safeguards around the use of artificial intelligence (AI). A-list stars including Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep have said they are ready to walk off the job if union leaders cannot reach a “transformative deal.”

On Tuesday, SAG-AFTRA said the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the group that negotiates on behalf of studios, “has abused our trust and damaged the respect we have for them in this process.”

The union said studio sources had leaked the request for a mediator to the press before SAG-AFTRA negotiators were informed.

“We will not be manipulated by this cynical ploy to engineer an extension when the companies have had more than enough time to make a fair deal,” the union said.

A spokesman for the AMPTP, which represents Walt Disney Co, Netflix Inc and other major studios, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Negotiations were taking place at a difficult time for media companies that are under pressure from Wall Street to make their streaming businesses profitable.

Disney, Comcast Corp’s NBCUniversal and Paramount Global each lost hundreds of millions of dollars from streaming in the most recent quarter. The rise of streaming has also eroded television ad revenue as traditional TV audiences shrink.

— Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Sandra Maler, Jacqueline Wong and Edwina Gibbs