Actors and writers on strike are united, determined in face of long summer standoff
LOS ANGELES — Solidarity and stamina were picket-line themes Monday as striking screenwriters and actors in New York and Los Angeles braced for a long, hot summer standoff with studios.
Picketers emphasized unity between writers, who have been on the lines for more than two months, and performers, who are only on Day 2 of striking — as well as camaraderie between highly paid actors and those with spare screen credits who struggle to scrape by.
Kevin Bacon, who was among the famous faces picketing among unknowns outside Viacom headquarters in New York, said his presence was about “seeing people out here and being aware that not all actors are super high paid actors, that they are working class people who are trying to make a living.”
One such working actor, Whitney Morgan Cox, who has appeared on the CBS series “Criminal Minds,” said it was “powerful” to see writers and actors come together who don’t often work simultaneously in production.
“I don’t think people necessarily realize the energy that writers and actors have,” Cox said outside Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, “and the stamina, and our ability to commit, that’s all our entire job is about is just committing to something and following through. So it’s been a really beautiful sense of community.”
Leaders of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) voted unanimously on Thursday that when their contract expired they would start striking the following day, joining the Writers Guild of America, who walked out on May 2.
“It’s been amazing to be out here now that we have the second wind of SAG members coming,” said Paul Scheer, who was already striking as a writer, and is now doing the same as an actor, outside Netflix headquarters in Hollywood. “I’m on strike two times, which means I have to walk double the steps, which is hard, but I’m willing to do it.”
On Monday temperatures were in the high 80s in New York, and well above 90 degrees F (32 C) in parts of Los Angeles, where some afternoon pickets were called off because of the extreme heat.
A union rally was planned for later in the day in Atlanta, where many productions have moved in recent years because of tax breaks and other lower costs.
The issue also came up in Washington, when White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre responded to a question during Monday’s briefing about whether the Biden administration supports the aims of striking entertainment workers.
“The president believes all workers, including the writers, including the actors, they deserve fair pay. And they deserve fair benefits,” Jean-Pierre said. “We sincerely hope that both actors and writers strikes get resolved, and that the parties come together and have a mutually beneficial agreement as soon as possible.”
While actors and writers also emphasized the need to reach a deal, few believed any such agreement would be coming soon, given the vast distance between the unions and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers — which represents studios, streamers and production companies in negotiations that are currently neither happening nor planned.
Key issues for both unions include residual payments, which have been nearly wiped out by the switch to the streaming system, and the unpaid use of their work and likeness by artificial intelligence avatars.
The AMPTP said it has offered fair terms on those and other issues.
“These things are things that I personally can negotiate for,” Bacon said. “But I’m here for the working class, middle class part of our union who needs these basic provisions in the basic contract.”