Labor Solstice: Hollywood Guild Negotiations Reach Pivotal Moment As SAG-AFTRA Talks Near Deadline & DGA Deal Vote Closes

The longest day of the year was this week, and SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers sure could use the extra hours to keep negotiating as the June 30 deadline to reach a deal before the current contract expires is only a week away.

Of course, that deadline can be extended, and there has been a lot of chatter recently that both sides are intent on continuing negotiations for two more weeks beyond June 30. I hear that has not been the case, and SAG-AFTRA has opted to stick with the original deadline — at least for now. The guild’s leadership is holding an overwhelming strike authorization vote in their hands, one approved by 97.91% of the membership. Importantly, they are asking for improvements over the terms in the DGA deal, I hear.

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Today is believed to be an important day in the negotiations. SAG-AFTRA is expected to respond to the most recent AMPTP proposal. If that happens, and depending whether it brings the two sides closer to a deal, they may agree to keep the talks going over the weekend (I hear negotiations also took place last weekend), and possibly discuss again extending talks past June 30.

Adding to the significance of today is the fact that the DGA membership’s vote closes, with the results bound to play a significant role in the ongoing guild contract negotiations (and lack thereof in the case of the WGA), especially if there is an upset.

Because of the usual media blackout around SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP, information is scarce, but from what I have gleaned talks have not been easy; observers pegging them somewhere between the WGA ones which never got real traction, and the DGA ones, which went relatively smoothly, leading to a deal with a couple of days to spare in the negotiating window.

Some of the complexities of the SAG-AFTRA negotiations stem from the fact that it is a lot more vast and sprawling than the WGA or DGA. To cover the asks of every group within the guild — from film and TV actors to voiceover actors to extras and more who all face different problems — the initial SAG-AFTRA list of demands contained dozens and dozens of pages and their presentation was also very long. This is something SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher referenced in her comments to Deadline on the WGA picket line last month, which drew a lot of attention (and some criticism).

“SAG-AFTRA is a very big union, we represent many different career paths that fall under that umbrella, so it’s a very big, complicated conversation, and I don’t think what’s very important to writers — and I’m a writer too — is the kind of the stuff that we’re [actors] going after,” she said at the time, and sounded optimistic about SAG-AFTRA’s then-upcoming negotiations with the AMPTP. “Our conversation is going to be very different, and I feel very hopeful that maybe we won’t get to this point [going on strike].”

Some of the factors playing into the ongoing talks are the large number of issues in many different areas that SAG-AFTRA is pursuing, factions within the guild and a new President who wants to make a mark in Drescher.

Then there is SAG-AFTRA’s push to secure significantly better terms than the ones just negotiated by the DGA. I hear it has been met with resistance by the studios, which are drawing a line in the sand, sticking to pattern bargaining where everyone gets the same terms as the first guild to make a deal on common issues, like residual increases, which are pursued by all three guilds this year, along with AI regulation.

Some observers say that the AMPTP may be too set in their ways, following too closely a tried and true scenario from past negotiations where they make a deal with one guild and the others have to fall in line, which may not work this time. Given the fact that that writers and actors are galvanized in a fight for the survival of their craft, industry insiders caution that the studios must take these SAG-AFTRA talks very seriously.

There has been some willingness, I hear, for the studios to make some concessions. It remains to be seen whether that will be enough to bridge the gap between the two sides.

There have been some encouraging signs, including talks picking up this week after a slow start last week. But industry insiders caution that things could go either way, especially with the SAG-AFTRA leadership feeling an obligation to take a strong deal to their members that meets the demands of as many groups within the guild as possible after getting unwavering support with the landslide strike authorization vote.

SAG-AFTRA reportedly took a couple of days to mull over the studios’ latest proposal, which is always a good sign. It will soon become clear whether that was a pivotal point in the negotiations or a pause in talks that ultimately don’t lead to a deal. The latter is considered a catastrophic scenario, with many wondering whether the film and TV industry could survive a second complete shutdown in three years.

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