September 28, 2023

Hollywood CEOs and Industry Insiders Seek Federal Mediation to Prevent SAG-AFTRA Strike (EXCLUSIVE)

Hollywood’s top players are working on a plan to enlist federal mediators to prevent a SAG-AFTRA strike, with just a day left before the contract deadline.

A group of CEOs and senior executives, including Disney TV chief Dana Walden and film chief Alan Bergman, David Zaslav of Warner Bros. Discovery and Netflix’s Ted Sarandos met via conference call Monday night to discuss the urgent situation with SAG-AFTRA about to go on strike on Thursday. In addition to executives discussing efforts to bring in a federal mediator, talent agency leaders including WME’s Ari Emanuel, CAA’s Bryan Lourd and UTA’s Jeremy Zimmer have reached out to SAG-AFTRA leaders in recent days to help that a second work stoppage in Hollywood this summer.

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The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, representing the major studios, has turned to the Federal Mediation and Mediation Service for help. It is not yet clear whether SAG-AFTRA, which represents 160,000 members, will be receptive to the idea, as it would have to extend negotiations for a second time.

The SAG-AFTRA contract currently expires at midnight PT on Wednesday, and the two sides continue to disagree on numerous issues, including streaming residues, minimum rate increases, and artificial intelligence. Relatively little progress has been made in recent days and it is starting to look increasingly likely that a strike will take place.

The contract originally expired on June 30, but the two sides agreed to a 12-day extension.

A SAG-AFTRA strike would immediately halt any film and TV production not already halted by the Writers Guild of America strike, which has been going on for more than two months. The impact would be especially significant overseas, where AMPTP companies have been able to continue recording some shows without the involvement of WGA writer-producers.

On Monday, SAG-AFTRA leaders briefed entertainment publicists on strike rules in preparation for a work stoppage. The tone of the call led many participants to conclude that it would take a miracle to avoid a strike.

SAG-AFTRA has been calling for volunteers to serve as strike captains, and members lined up on WGA picket lines on Tuesday to receive training from WGA captains at several Hollywood studios.

The Biden administration recently sent Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su to help broker a deal that prevented the closure of West Coast ports.

The hope on the part of management is that a federal mediator would be seen as a neutral third party to help the parties reach a compromise that would be more acceptable to the rank and file members of the union if it flowed through a mediator.

Sources close to the negotiations say AMPTP representatives and member company leaders are frustrated with what they see as SAG-AFTRA’s intransigence. There is a strong sense that a militant minority in the union has an undue influence on the bargaining strategy, regardless of the heavy toll a strike would take on both actors and other unions and countless companies that depend on production-related work.

“We are negotiating with ourselves and we are not getting anywhere,” said the source. “How can a mediator hurt?”

(Pictured: Mark Ruffalo)

Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately stated that Disney’s Bob Iger participated in the conference call.

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