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SAG-AFTRA Ratifies Contract, Officially Ending Historic Labor Dispute

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SAG-AFTRA members have voted to ratify their contract, officially ending the longest labor battle in Hollywood history.

The contract was approved with 78% voting in favor. Turnout was 38%.

“This contract is an enormous victory for working performers, and it marks the dawning of a new era for the industry,” Fran Drescher, the union’s president, said in a message to the membership.

SAG-AFTRA suspended its 118-day strike against the major studios on Nov. 8, after reaching a tentative agreement. The agreement still had to be ratified to formally end the walkout. Had the membership voted it down, the strike likely would have resumed.

The deal provides a 7% increase in minimum rates in the first year of the contract and a $40 million residual bonus for actors on streaming shows.

The deal also provides the first-ever protections against the use of artificial intelligence to replicate performances. Under the agreement, actors must consent to being replicated, and the intended use of the AI performance must be spelled out in “reasonably specific” terms.

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For some actors, the language did not go far enough to allay their fears of being replaced by AI. The contract does not prohibit studios from training AI on actors’ images to create “synthetic” performers who bear no resemblance to any real-life actor.

The union had sought to give itself a veto over such use, but the studios refused, agreeing only to give the union notice. The deal also provides that if any “synthetic” performer includes a recognizable facial feature of a real actor, that actor must consent to that use.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the union’s chief negotiator, has spent much of the last few weeks answering members’ concerns about the AI provisions. He has repeatedly conceded that the agreement is not “perfect,” but argued that it was the best deal the union could make with the leverage it had.

“We reached a deal right at our point of peak leverage in this process,” he said.

Drescher argued throughout the strike that the union needed to find a new revenue stream to compensate actors who appear on streaming platforms. At one point, the union was seeking $500 million a year, which would come from a 57-cent assessment for every streaming subscriber.

The union did not come close to that, but it did get the new $40 million bonus residual, which is modeled on a similar deal given to the Writers Guild of America. The deal provides a 75% residual bonus for actors who appear on the most-watched made-for-streaming shows. Another 25% — or about $10 million in the first year — will go into a Success Bonus Distribution Fund, which will distribute the money more broadly to actors on other made-for-streaming streaming shows.

The union wanted the entire bonus to go into the fund, but settled for 25%. The fund will be jointly administered by the union and the studios. Union leaders have said that they will prioritize adding more money into the fund in future negotiations.

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The deal also includes regulations around self-taped auditions, online casting platforms, and hair and makeup tailored for diverse actors, among many other provisions.

SAG-AFTRA declared a strike on July 13, after talks broke down with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The actors joined the WGA on the picket lines, marking the first time that both actors and writers had been on strike since 1960.

The turnout and the margin of support were both higher than the last ratification vote in 2020. That year, 74% voted to approve the contract with 27% turnout.

Source: Variety

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