According to new figures released during the weekend, the entertainment industry in California lost 17,000 jobs last month because of both the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and SAG-AFTRA strikes, with ‘below-the-line’ workers being found to have been bearing the brunt of both strikes.
The WGA strike, which started on May 2nd and has currently lasted 125 days, and the SAG-AFTRA strike, which started on July 14th and has lasted 52 days, have both largely been at a standstill with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) for months. Both unions have been pulling for better residual fees for streaming service programs, better overall pay, a minimum number of writers on writing staff to ensure continued employment, and strict regulation on the use of artificial intelligence.
While talks between the WGA and the studios did restart last month, they soon broke down again. Politically, Governor Gavin Newsom offered to be a negotiator between the two sides but was summarily rejected by both unions and the AMPTP. State Treasurer Fiona Ma also called for an end to the strike last month, but was immediately called out for taking sides with the unions.
With the strikes now dragging into September, the situation in Hollywood and around California regarding the entertainment industry has gotten worse. During the weekend, statistics released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that the film and TV industry lost 17,000 jobs in August, with 4,000 telecommunications positions also being lost.
“Within the industry, employment in motion picture and sound recording industries decreased by 17,000, reflecting strike activity,” said the BLS during the weekend. “Job losses continued in telecommunications (-4,000).”
Many jobs surrounding the industry, such as those in industry suppliers, talent agencies, catering services, and others also have reported large losses outside the BLS report. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) in particular has been struggling during the strike. In July, the Globe reported that many industries, especially those ‘below-the-line’, or those on the crew or technical side of things in productions, would be severely affected by the strike. During the weekend, IATSE confirmed that this is exactly what has happened.
Standstill between unions, studios
“It has become frighteningly apparent that below-the-line workers are bearing the brunt of the ongoing strikes by actors and writers,” said Chuck Parker, the national executive director of the Art Directors Guild, IATSE Local 800, in an email to members. “I understand that most of you are frustrated by the condition that our Industry is currently in. Both the writers’ and actors’ strikes have brought our industry to its knees. I also realize that many of you have passed the point of frustration and find yourselves in despair, and for some, borderline desperation.”
“While the writers and actors have the right to strike over what they feel and have consistently communicated that they deserve, they also feel that the employer is not engaging with them in a meaningful way. However, it has become frighteningly apparent that the ones who are bearing the brunt of the resultant economic fallout are the rank-and-file members of the IATSE, the Teamsters, the Basic Crafts and our valued vendors that we rely on, on a daily basis.”
“If I could make a phone call to anyone who is responsible for this situation and get us all back to work, I would. The truth, though, is that we have no standing in this dispute. The only thing we can do, the only action we can take, is to find ways to help each other that have consequence.”
Other IATSE members told the Globe on Monday that they are worried.
“This is Labor Day. This is supposed to be our day,” said Enrico, a cameraman and IATSE member. “But here are a lot of us who have been out of a job for so long. This is very frustrating. We want to support our brothers and sisters striking, because we want them to get a fair wage. A lot of writers and actors deserve to live comfortably who aren’t already. But if they aren’t working, it means so many others aren’t since productions shut down. And that’s where we are.”
“Yes, we are very worried. We want to be supportive, but at the same time, their strike is costing us jobs and money. We suffer despite having a contract.”
The strike has so far cost Los Angeles alone $3 billion. Theresa Stevenson, an arbitrator in Michigan who has helped settled union disputes and strikes in the past, also told the Globe that this was likely to get worse.
“Expect a lot more,” said Stevenson. “Studios know exactly when the majority of WGA writers and the actors lose money. Right now, it’s October for the actors and early 2024 for actors. They’ll hold out as long as they can since they have so much to lose. But that means productions will stay still, and things won’t get filmed. So figure another billion or two in the next few months if the strike isn’t over by then.”
As of Monday afternoon, there are currently no talks scheduled between unions and studios.