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February 13, 2024 | EmploymentEntertainment

Post-Strike Insights: Comparing the WGA and SAG-AFTRA Agreements

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Danielle Yurkew

Associate Attorney

Ellie Sanders

Associate Attorney

After two of the most significant labor strikes in Hollywood history, both actors and writers are back to work.  The Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) engaged in strikes for 148 days and 118 days, respectively.  The 2023 strikes marked a pivotal moment in the entertainment industry, as both unions advocated for equitable compensation, improved working conditions, and adapted contractual frameworks in response to evolving industry dynamics.  These strikes had widespread effects, impacting comedians and others in the entertainment industry.

What is the WGA?

The WGA is a labor union that represents roughly 12,000 writers in film and television.  Every three years, the WGA negotiates a new contract with the major Hollywood film and TV studios.  The film and TV studios negotiate through their trade association, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

What is SAG-AFTRA?

SAG-AFTRA is a labor union that represents approximately 160,000 actors and other on-screen media professionals.  Like the WGA, SAG-AFTRA negotiates a new contract with the AMPTP every three years.

Why did the WGA and SAG-AFTRA go on strike?

Both writers and actors went on strike in 2023, after the major Hollywood film and TV studios rejected their separate, but similar, demands.

Both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA wanted:

  • Pay increases;
  • Residuals – or, a type of royalty payment for reruns – for projects on streaming platforms, and;
  • Limits on the use of artificial intelligence (AI).

With respect to AI, writers were concerned that studios would use AI instead of hiring writers to write scripts.  Actors were worried that AI would be used to replace actors with digital replicas.

WGA went on strike in May 2023, and SAG-AFTRA went on strike in July 2023.  These strikes, which were among the longest in Hollywood’s history, brought the entertainment industry to a halt for much of the year.

On what issues did the writers win?

After nearly five months of striking, the writers secured their primary demands of the studios.

  • The writers won on their pay terms, gaining:
    • A 3-5% increase in wages and residual pay, and;
    • New residual payments based on the popularity of streaming shows, where writers will get a bonus if their project is viewed by at least 20% of a streaming service’s subscribers within 90 days of release.
  • The writers also succeeded in limiting the use of AI:
    • Writers will be able to use AI to research and facilitate script ideas, but writers cannot be required to use AI and writers will not have to share writing credits with AI if they choose to use it.
  • And, the writers were able to secure a minimum of at least six writers on staff for television shows with at least 13 episodes.
    • The writers did not get their request for a guaranteed staff of six on shows that had not yet been ordered to series, settling instead for a guaranteed staff of three writers.

On what issues did the actors win?

According to SAG-AFTRA, after more than six months of striking, the actors won their main asks of the studios.  SAG-AFTRA has stated that their new agreement with the studios is valued at more than $1 billion.

  • The actors won on their pay terms, gaining:
    • A 7% increases in wages,
    • A new residual for streaming programs, and;
    • A “streaming participation bonus.”
  • The actors also secured protections limiting the use of AI:
    • Actors succeeded in obtaining “consent and compensation guardrails on the use of AI.”

Whose deal with the studios is better (SAG or WGA)?

Overall, the actors secured more favorable terms with the studios than the writers did.

SAG-AFTRA signed a deal where actors will receive a 7% increase to their pay minimums, whereas the WGA deal affords writers an increase of between 3-5%.

The actors will also get a better bonus for streaming residuals than the writers.  Both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA deals have a residual bonus that kicks in when 20% or more of a streaming service’s domestic subscribers watch a TV series or movie in the first 90 days of its release.

However, the actors will receive a bonus residual at double the rate that the writers will, and the bonus will be pooled.  This bonus pool will be distributed with 75% of the funds going to the actors depicted in movies and series that hit the 20% threshold.  The remaining 25% of the bonus funds will be distributed among other streaming projects based on still undetermined guidelines.

The WGA success-based residual, in contrast, will apply only to writers who worked on shows that cross the 20% benchmark, without pooling funds and dividing those funds among other writers.

What’s next now that the strikes are over?

Both actors and writers were able to get back to work by late 2023.  Disney’s President, Bob Iger, has stressed that his immediate focus is completing summer 2024 blockbuster movies, which had been on hold since the start of the WGA strike in May.  Whereas in 2023, daytime talk shows were one of the few sources of new television content, this year, we can expect TV series to be back in full force, if delayed from their original air dates.  Further, now that the strike is over and actors may attend red carpet premieres, we expect a return to the usual glamour of full-fledged premiere events.

If you have questions about union grievances, employment law, and entertainment law, one of our qualified attorneys can help guide you based on your specific circumstances.  Reach out to a member of our team who can help advise you on next steps.



Photo by Nathan DeFiesta on Unsplash
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