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How below-the-line workers are surviving the Hollywood strikes

Members of SAG-AFTRA, the actors union, are still striking for a better contract and have been for more than three months now.

According to the latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the motion picture and sound recording industry has “declined by 45,000 since May, reflecting the impact of labor disputes.”

Thousands of so-called below-the-line workers like set builders and editors are also largely out of work because of the strike.

Take Greg Gilday, a welder and set builder. He makes spaceships for a living. Not real ones, but the ones you can see in the new Star Wars “Ahsoka” series.

But right now, Gilday feels like he’s fighting a battle in a galaxy not so far away. Because of the Hollywood stalemate, Gilday has been out of work for months.

Greg Gilday sits outside a bar in Los Angeles.
Set builder and welder Greg Gilday outside Walt’s bar in Los Angeles. (Robert Garrova)

“I’ve dug into my savings quite extensively and still have about $27,000 in debt that I did not have at the end of April, which is the last time I worked,” Gilday said.

He supports the strikers but the work stoppage is hitting him and thousands of others hard.

The Entertainment Community Fund said it’s been distributing up to $700,000 each week in emergency grants for struggling workers. Keith McNutt is with the nonprofit and said the strike came just as many workers were still financially recovering from the pandemic.

“And people I think were just starting to rebuild their reserves, their savings for a rainy day. And it started raining before people were ready,” McNutt said.

Some estimate that the drain on the greater L.A. economy from the strikes could be somewhere between $3 billion and $5 billion.

In some cases, workers have had to get creative to pay the bills. For the past couple of months, they’ve held swap meets where prop masters, makeup artists and costume designers can sell personal belongings. Film editor Diandra Luzon was one of some 70 vendors who showed up to sell.

“It was really great to see the camaraderie with all of us that are being impacted and just how special that was,” Luzon said.

Luzon said she made $1,800 selling off DVDs from her prized Criterion Collection, a Darth Vader nutcracker she bought in Germany and a special doll she’d wanted to keep in the family.

A split image: On the left, a photo of a "Rugrats" Cynthia doll, with text added that reads "$40" and "was from 2016 Comic Con special edition nickbox." On the right, a photograph of Diandra Luzon and her computer with editing software open on it.
To help make ends meet during the Hollywood strike, Diandra Luzon, a film editor, has sold a variety of prized possessions, including her “Rugrats” Cynthia doll. (Courtesy Diandra Luzon)

“It was a little sad. I got rid of a Cynthia doll from ‘Rugrats.’ I was like, ‘When I have a girl someday I’ll give her that doll’” said Luzon. “I don’t think that’s the extent we should have to go to survive. I don’t think it should ever go here.”

Mostly out of work since November, Luzon said she’s gone through her savings, brought in a roommate and started driving for Uber to make ends meet.

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