Is Now the Time to Bring in Mediators to End the SAG-AFTRA Strike?

Posted By: Jonathan Baccay CPR Speaks,

On Tuesday, the Writers Guild of America’s (WGA) leadership recommended its members back a tentative agreement reached over the weekend with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), ending the long-running strike of the WGA’s news and entertainment writers.

The agreement, which was announced to WGA members Sunday, ended part of the broader Hollywood labor dispute, which began in May. While the deal suspended WGA picketing, the Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) strike against the AMPTP continues. In the wake of the deal reached between the WGA and AMPTP, the question has become whether mediators should be brought in to end the dispute that has thus far been estimated to have cost more than $5 billion.

The deal between the WGA and AMPTP expires in May 2026, and included increases in writer compensation, with their pay minimums increasing by 5%, upon ratification of the agreement, with 4% and 3.5% increases in 2024 and 2025, respectively. Additionally, the agreement secured minimum rates of 3% for daytime serials and news programs, with those rates compounded annually by another 3% (For the full text of the agreement between the WGA and AMPTP see the link here).

The agreement also restricts the use of artificial intelligence, a lightning rod of contention since the dispute began, from writing or rewriting material. The deal allows a writer to choose to use AI, but a company cannot require a writer to use AI in their work. Companies are also now required to disclose to the writer if any material given to the writer has been created by, or includes segments created by, AI.

Among other terms of the deal, the WGA secured new residuals for members based on viewership, with writers receiving a bonus equal to 50% of the fixed domestic and foreign residual for series and films that are viewed by 20% or more of a company’s domestic subscribers within the first 90 days of release.

The dispute between SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP is concerned with similar contractual protections for the SAG-AFTRA members. As announced to SAG-AFTRA members in June, the strike was authorized to negotiate “a contract that will increase contributions to our benefit plans and protect members from erosion of income due to inflation and reduced residuals, unregulated use of generative AI, and demanding self-taped auditions.”

With AMPTP now having reached a deal with the WGA, a deal between SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP seems closer.

Before the strike began, multiple parties offered to intercede and mediate negotiations between the parties. In July, California Gov. Gavin Newsom offered to help mediate a deal to restart the entertainment industry, but the offer was rejected by both studio executives and the actors. In a statement given to the Associated Press, Anthony York,  Newsom’s senior communications adviser, noted, “It’s clear that the sides are still far apart, but [Newsom] is deeply concerned about the impact a prolonged strike can have on the regional and state economy.  . . .”  

With the WGA settlement--still subject to a members' vote early next month--it could be beneficial for the parties in SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP to revisit using federal mediators to end the dispute. That idea was initially broached on July 11, with SAG-AFTRA agreeing to meet with federal mediators in a last-minute request by AMPTP, but a deal was not reached before the expiration of the extended contract at midnight the next day. With the labor dispute approaching the 100-day mark, the parties appear to be in an ideal place to re-commence mediation efforts.

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 The author, a second-year law student at the Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, is a Fall 2023 CPR intern.