Sunday Chronicles: On Strike

a stick drawing of a performer with their arm raised above the words SAG-AFTRA Strong

As many of you may know, I’m an actress (working!) and as of this past Thursday, I’m on strike. I know that there is a lot of preconceived notions about actors and Hollywood and why we’re on strike, so I thought I would let you into my thought process.

Firstly, most actors aren’t famous- or rich. SAGAFTRA has 160,000 members. To qualify for health insurance through the union, you need to make $26,000/yr on union projects. 87% of the union doesn’t qualify. (I don’t). I’m not great at math (unless it’s a shoe sale or an outfit) but I can tell you that the majority of the union members are average, working class, middle class people who’s work just happens to be art. Most actors don’t work regularly. I’m lucky that lately I’ve been booking commercials and print work, but in terms of acting gigs I’m out of work more than I’m in it. And we’re independent contractors- meaning that if you don’t work you don’t get paid. It’s a hustle and a struggle and a blessing. But the idea that actors (and writers) are all rich and working all the time and it’s super glamorous? It’s not true. I love acting, I’m good at acting but work isn’t consistent and often involves long days on set. It’s labor and art and love, and deserves to be fairly compensated.

So. Why are we striking? As streamers have taken over how most of us consume media, the pay structure that was in place (residuals, more pay for hits, etc) has gone out the window. We’re asking to be compensated for the hits we make. (Which weirdly- no streamer wants to give data on viewship, numbers, etc. They want us to subscribe and not unsubscribe. That’s it) We’re asking to be compensated for self tape auditions. You may think it’s easy to tape yourself – it’s not. And the last virtual callback I had was over 4 hrs. I’m lucky that my schedule is flexible, but that was 4 hrs of labor I wasn’t paid for. AI is a big issue. You may have heard that studios want to scan background workers and use their image forever. With no extra pay. I’ve recently turned down 2 commercials as the contract stated that I would be scanned and AI of me would be used going forward. I can’t work today and then never work again. And these issues are the tip of the iceberg.

If you grew up in a right-to-work state unions and striking might be something foreign to you. They were to me when I began pursing an acting career in earnest. But banding together and asking for fair treatment (note- what WAG and SAG are asking for are less than 2% of studio and streaming profits. Studio heads like Iger and Zaslav make MILLIONS a year and are not the actual makers of any product) is a way to take care of each other, to protect each other. Unions have given us weekends, health care and more. Supporting the labor is a great stance. I believe we’re on the right side of history.

And if nothing else the studios have given theater kids a chance to go perform everyday on the picket lines- they may find that’s a big mistake. I’m linking more resources as well as the SAG President’s talk on this. People have asked how to help- I would say support labor. Be understanding when your shows and movies are delayed. Know that we’re fighting for all of us. There are picket line funds you can donate to, and in general know that in this case, the artists are the good guys. Due to location I’m not on the picket lines currently, but I am supporting and participating and believing in a world where labor is valued.

And here is a great article that covers the strike and all sides. Want a fun fact? The last time WAG and SAG were on strike together Ronald Reagan (that Ronald Reagan) was SAG president.

I have no idea how or how long this strike will last. I do know that I believe in us- all of us- and there’s so much fashion to discuss while media is on a break!

Wishing us all a week of solidarity and amazing shoes! XO RA