SAG-AFTRA’s chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland joined the heads of U.K. actors and crew unions Equity and Bectu in a webinar on Tuesday to discuss the ongoing strikes and their increasingly heavy impact on the British entertainment industry.
While Crabtree-Ireland seemed appreciative of the international support for the SAG-AFTRA strike — “We know your members are hurting in the industry as well,” he told more than 500 union members who joined the virtual event in hope of an update — the union leader provided few details around the state of negotiations.
“This is Day 39 of the SAG-AFTRA part of the strike, and it’s well over 100 days for the writers strike,” said Crabtree-Ireland. “When is this going to be over? I wish I could give you a definitive answer right now. That question needs to be answered by the CEOs of the studios and streamers who are deciding what’s happening.”
U.K. crew and industry are feeling the pain of the knock-on effects of the U.S. actors strike. As major Hollywood productions filming in the U.K. have ground to a halt as a result of labor action, entire crews have been suspended with little notice. The webinar was organized by crew union Bectu to give its members the chance to hear directly from SAG-AFTRA about the issues at the centre of the dispute, and the latest prospects for renewed negotiations.
Commenting on the restarted talks earlier this month between the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers and the Writers Guild of America, Crabtree-Ireland said he was “not in a position to comment” but that the negotiations are “ongoing.”
“I hope they will be successful and the companies come back with a mindset of fairness and respect,” he said.
The chief negotiator, who said picket lines were paused in Los Angeles on Monday due to tropical storm Hilary, also set out SAG-AFTRA’s three primary demands of raising minimums, a framework for artificial intelligence and the sharing of streaming revenues with artists.
He also reiterated that the strike was in the interest of working-class performers. “We have the benefit of fairly high-profile people and they’re out there advocating for these issues … but the economic issue is really focused on working performers — people trying to make a living, get health insurance, pay their rent. This isn’t a strike about wealthy, successful people. This is a strike about working performers trying to make a living.”
As reported by Variety in June, Equity general secretary Paul W. Fleming warned that the U.K. actors union may be “heading into our own industrial dispute” with producers trade body Pact — which he characterized as the “AMPTP of the U.K.” — over the next 12 months. Equity is demanding a 15% rise in basic pay, as well as more complex asks around AI and secondary payments, much like SAG-AFTRA.
“Our own bargaining, which starts towards the end of this year and early next year, is essentially hardened because of the position of global producers,” said Fleming. “There may be ongoing disruption as time goes by. That is a real incentive for the AMPTP, and indeed British producers, to put pressure on so the industrial unrest doesn’t spread to this side of the Atlantic on our agreements and our negotiation.”
Fleming warned that his U.K. union is also safeguarding the jobs of American actors who are increasingly in danger of being recast with British actors.
“What we will not tolerate is jobs being recast when they were previously offered to American artists, with British artists, even if they are on our agreements,” said Fleming. “We’re policing that very, very militantly, and it’s entirely possible for us to enter our own individual trade disputes with individual productions, where we believe that they are attempting to avoid the industrial action in the United States.”
Ultimately, the longer the U.S. strike wears on, the greater the effects of “Britain catching a cold,” said Fleming. But ultimately, he continued, the hardships will be “necessary to ensure SAG-AFTRA wins, so we’re in the best possible position in the coming months” for negotiations with Pact.
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