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Hollywood performers ratify new contract with studios

SAG-AFTRA headquarters in Los Angeles.
Mandalit del Barco
NPR News
SAG-AFTRA headquarters in Los Angeles.

Hollywood performers in the union SAG-AFTRA have voted to ratify a new three year TV/theatrical contract with major studios and streaming companies. The deal with Netflix, Amazon, Warner Brothers, Universal, Disney and other studios was made last month after a 118-day strike.

The union's 160,000 members were then given a month to vote on the agreement. In the end the vote was approved by 78.33 percent, with a turnout of 38.15 percent. " This is a golden age for SAG-AFTRA, and our union has never been more powerful" SAG-AFTRA president, Fran Drescher said following the announcement.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios, congratulated the union, saying the contract "represents historic gains and protections for performers. With this vote, the industry and the jobs it supports will be able to return in full force."

Under the new deal, actors, dancers, stunt performers and voice-over actors will get wage increases, higher residuals, and streaming bonuses, and some protections against the use of artificial intelligence. SAG-AFTRA estimates the contract generates more than a billion dollars in new compensation, health benefits and pensions.

SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher and national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland walk the picket line outside Netflix.
Mandalit del Barco / NPR News
NPR News
SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher and national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland walk the picket line outside Netflix.

"This was a hard fought deal," the union's national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland told NPR two weeks ago. "We pushed the companies to agree to things they said they would never agree to when the negotiations started."

During a meeting with union members in Los Angeles Crabtree-Ireland had urged them to ratify the deal. "We went to the moment of peak leverage," he said, "the moment when they were forced to make decisions about canceling shows and cancelling projects for next year. And that's how we extracted the final concessions on AI and on the streaming bonus money as well."

Under the new deal, performers will need to give their consent and be compensated if productions use their likenesses and voices, even when replicated by AI. But in the last few weeks, many worried the agreement could also mean that companies can replace human actors with "synthetic performers."

"There are so many loopholes, that it really isn't protection," said actor Shaan Sharma, a member of the union's negotiating committee who urged a "no" vote. He told NPR the contract poses an "existential threat" to performers in SAG-AFTRA.

Crabtree-Ireland says as the technology develops, the union will continue monitoring the results, and further protections may be negotiated in the next contract, three years from now, with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.