Less than a week before the expiration of their current film and television contract, SAG-AFTRA is calling on members to step up and volunteer in the event of a strike in the industry.
In a message sent to members on Thursday, the artists’ union asked its 160,000 members to complete a survey to gauge their readiness to picket and their interest in becoming lead members in the event of a film and television work stoppage. “SAG-AFTRA may soon call a strike, a work stoppage, to put pressure on AMPTP companies to give us a fair deal on new TV/theater contracts,” the survey stated. “Part of running a successful strike is picketing, where members peacefully protest outside the workplaces of striking companies to draw public attention to our cause, shut down production, and discourage strikebreakers. We need as many volunteers as possible to be effective.”
The message that accompanied the survey told members not to worry about committing to any particular task just yet. “By taking this survey, you are not obligating yourself to help, but it will help us make informed decisions about our members and resources if we ever need to ask for your help,” the union stated.
The survey asked if members could picket as part of their Local in the event of a strike (although, the union noted, not all Locals will picket) and asked when they would prefer to demonstrate if so. The survey offered several potential volunteer activities for members (watching neutral doors, making signs, phone banking, leading chants, and being a strike captain, among others) and asked survey participants to indicate their interest in any of them. Members willing to rise as strike captains could do so in one of three capacities: as a studio picket coordinator (someone who manages general picketing at a studio location, similar to the Writers Guild of America lot coordinators during their current strike), studio assistant lot picket coordinator (a person who assists the studio lot picket coordinator in their duties), or door picket captain (someone who oversees picketing the doors of a production location in particular).
The union further asked if members spoke other languages and if they would be “willing or interested in using that language in activities supporting the strike.” Members were asked to indicate whether they could picket in Los Angeles and New York “in the next few days” and ranked their preferences for particular picket locations in Los Angeles, including Amazon/Culver Studios, CBS Radford, CBS Television City, Disney, Fox, Netflix, Paramount, Sony, Universal, and Warner Bros. (These are also current WGA picket locations, which could lead to an overcrowded situation if SAG-AFTRA actually strikes.)
Members were also surveyed about their demographic and contact information, their membership category, the roles they typically work in (ie, whether they are daytime actors, singers, dancers, or series regulars), and which Local they belong to.
On Friday, SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which negotiates on behalf of major entertainment companies, elected to extend the expiration date of their current TV/film contract package from June 30 to June 12. July. SAG-AFTRA framed this extension to its members not as a sign of “weakness” but as an attempt to “exhaust every opportunity to achieve the fair contract that we all demand and deserve.” The union could call a strike, the first directed at film and television companies in four decades, as soon as that extension ends after 11:59 p.m. on July 12.
In recent weeks, the industry has been preparing for a possible double strike, as writers remain on the picket line as they wait for their union and the AMPTP to return to the negotiating table. As of Thursday, a WGA source said the hollywood reporter that the writers’ union was seeking to recruit more strike captains in part to offer additional support at picket sites if SAG-AFTRA goes on strike. (The WGA declined to comment.)
The WGA has already halted much of physical production since calling a strike on May 2: union writers have not only stopped work, but have also attacked ongoing projects by picketing the site. However, a strike by SAG-AFTRA would halt any remaining union filming.
SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher and National CEO and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland seemed to suggest that talks with employers were going well in a video at the end of June. “We stand firm and we are going to reach a seminal agreement,” Drescher said. But with Thursday’s member poll, it appears the union is hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.