The entertainment industry is on the brink of a possible writers’ strike, with the Writers Guild of America (WGA) threatening to walk out as soon as Monday night at midnight if contract talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) don’t yield a satisfactory result. As the deadline approaches, SAG-AFTRA, the union representing actors, is advising its members to “continue to work” in the event of a strike.
A statement issued by SAG-AFTRA explains that actors are legally obligated to continue working under their personal services agreement and the “no strike” clause in their collective bargaining agreements. The statement goes on to say that actors can also “continue to audition for work” if they choose to. The union is keen to emphasize that it has a “no-strike” clause in its Codified Basic Agreement, which means that it will not call or engage in a strike affecting motion picture production against any producer signatory.
SAG-AFTRA’s statement also notes that the WGA is aware of the union’s no-strike clause and the fact that labor law protections that apply to striking workers do not apply to other workers whose contracts are still in effect. The actors’ union advises its members that “if you as an individual decide not to report to work as required, you may be subject to breach of contract claims or be subject to termination by the producer.”
Other entertainment industry unions have “no strike” clauses in their contracts, including IATSE and the Teamsters, but their leaders have told members that they have the legal right to honor the WGA’s picket lines if it comes to that. The Directors Guild has also advised its members that while its “no-strike clauses are clear,” as an individual, they cannot be forced to work. If they refuse to cross a picket line and perform their DGA-covered services, then their employer has the right to replace them, and if they have a personal services agreement, they may be subject to claims for breach of contract.
SAG-AFTRA’s contract expires on June 30, and the union is scheduled to start negotiations with the AMPTP on June 7. If the WGA strike is called before that date, SAG-AFTRA has promised to inform members of any change in the timing of their negotiations. The guild has also made it clear that it regards a strike as a last resort and will do everything in its power to reach an agreement with the AMPTP.
In a message to their members, SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher and National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said that “standing together with our sister unions multiplies our power and gives us all the strongest position to ensure our large corporate employers step up and treat fairly and justly the people who are the creative source of the industry’s success.”
The National Board of SAG-AFTRA has adopted a resolution of strong support for the Writers Guild of America in their negotiations with the AMPTP. If the WGA finds it necessary to strike in order to achieve a fair deal for their members, although SAG-AFTRA cannot presently go on strike with them, the union will be there to support and stand beside them.
The WGA, meanwhile, is ready for a strike but would prefer a good deal. The union has amassed a whopping $20 million strike fund to provide loans or grants to members “adversely affected by a strike.” That’s more than double the $9.2 million it had going into the 100-day strike of 2007-08, when more than $3 million in strike loans was distributed to members during and after the walkout.