By James Hirsen
For months now the Hollywood actors union has been on strike against the movie studios.
Now the union is seeking to authorize a second strike, this one involving major video game companies.
The current labor actions began when the Writers’ Guild of America union (WGA) went on strike in May of this year.
In mid-July, the WGA was joined by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA).
It was historical in nature because a simultaneous strike of both actors and writers hadn’t happened in 63 years.
The actors union hasn’t gone on strike against video game companies since 2016. The strike back then lasted 11 months.
If the sought-after strike addition materializes, video game actors most affected would be ones who do motion capture work and voice-overs for the video game producers.
The largest producers of video games in the world are big-name companies like Disney, EA, Activision, Epic Games, and Take Two. These are companies that are parties to the SAG-AFTRA video game contract.
The union has stated that it is asking video game companies for an 11% raise, with two 4% increases during the term of the labor contract, along with protections against AI technology.
SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher issued a statement about the proposed new strike.
“Here we go again! Now our Interactive (Video Game) Agreement is at a stalemate too. Once again we are facing employer greed and disrespect. Once again artificial intelligence is putting our members in jeopardy of reducing their opportunity to work. And once again, SAG-AFTRA is standing up to tyranny on behalf of its members,” she said.
Use of the term “stalemate” by the head of a prominent union doesn’t bode well for those seeking a speedy resolution to the labor turmoil in Hollywood.
SAG-AFTRA’s strike has almost completely shutdown the activities of Hollywood studios.
Talks between the industry and the unions have not been promising. There have been no breakthroughs over a long summer. The unions seem to be far away from the better wages, residuals, working conditions and AI protections that actors and writers seek.
SAG-AFTRA needs to supplement the picketing and negotiating with additional action. Adding video game companies to the labor lockout list is one way of increasing leverage while raising public awareness.
Evaluating these strikes is a complex calculus, one with multiple variables.
Entertainment companies are very much in need of content, and the preference would be to have the labor disputes come to an end.
Powerful studio heads are concerned about how the strikes are perceived by Wall Street. The entertainment industry had been in the doldrums before the strike began. And layoffs at production companies and talent agencies certainly didn’t help the overall economy.
Additionally, the strikes have caused significant disruptions to film and television productions all over the world. According to the Financial Times, the ongoing strikes have cost the California economy about $5 billion.
The consequences of the shutdown of Hollywood productions have set off a ripple effect across a large swath of local businesses; those that provide services to the movie industry, including catering, dry cleaning services, drivers, rental companies, etc.
Hollywood jobs seem to be in constant flux. The entertainment industry in general is not known for its job security. People are routinely thinking about getting out of the industry and opting for something with more employment stability.
Workers and businesses that have been affected by the strikes may decide to relocate elsewhere, and would therefore not be available if and when productions actually resume.
On the other hand, if the unions push too long and too hard on the studios, the studios may find an alternative way to obtain the content that they need.
During the 2007-08 WGA strike, the studios were unable to hire union writers. So they turned to the reality TV genre that propelled reality shows to a level in which they still lay claim to a large portion of television production.
Then there’s the elephant in the room, Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Do the work stoppages and production-set standstill become incentives for studios and production companies to accelerate the use of AI technology?
The strike may just push content executives to expedite their AI capabilities.
In fact, this seems to be happening as job postings for AI product managers offering compensation packages of $300,000-$900,000 would indicate.
The studios and streaming services are already using AI technology in the script-screening process, synopsizing stories and diminishing the need for human story analysts.
When writers and actors strike because they are afraid of being replaced by technology, will the content executives be tempted to hire compliant robots that are programmed not to picket?
Hopefully, something will give soon so the cameras can get rolling again.
James Hirsen, J.D., M.A., in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor.
Original article: Newmax