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18 July 20236 minute read

SAG-AFTRA strike: The strike rules, and the exceptions

As of July 14, 2023, the leadership of SAG-AFTRA (the actors’ guild) has enacted a strike of its 160,000 members, after failing to agree to a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents television, film and streaming studios.

This is the first strike called by this organization following the merger between the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) in March 2012 and the first time in 63 years that all Hollywood actors have gone on strike concurrently with the members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA). The SAG-AFTRA strike comes as the WGA strike remains ongoing. 

In addition to the immediate shutdown of Hollywood film and television productions, SAG-AFTRA members will not be able to participate in any promotion of productions made pursuant to a SAG-AFTRA agreement, meaning they cannot be present for film or television premieres, cannot complete interviews when the subject is completed work (including at conventions, such as Comic-Con), and cannot attend film festivals or awards shows or share content related to film and television projects on their social media. Other forms of content, including commercials and promotional work for brands/retailers, are not impacted by this strike.

Disallowed work per SAG-AFTRA

SAG-AFTRA has published guidelines pertaining to prohibited conduct by its members, including publicity activity and the negotiation of future deals. Specifically, all covered services and performing work under TV/theatrical contracts with any company that is part of the AMPTP (known as a “struck company”), must be withheld, including but not limited to:

  • Principal on-camera work, such as:
    • acting, singing, dancing, performing stunts, piloting on-camera aircraft, puppeteering, performance capture or motion capture work
  • Principal off camera work, such as:
    • ADR/looping, TV trailers (promos) and theatrical trailers, voice acting, singing, stunt coordinating and related services, narration, including audio descriptive services except as the services may be covered by another collective bargaining agreement
  • Background work
  • Stand-in work
  • Photo and/or body doubles
  • Fittings, wardrobe tests, and makeup tests
  • Rehearsals and camera tests
  • Scanning
  • Interviews and auditions (including via self-tape)
  • Promotion of/publicity services for work under the TV/Theatrical Contracts, such as:
    • tours, personal appearances, interviews, conventions, fan expos, festivals, for your consideration events, panels, premieres/screenings, award shows, junkets, podcast appearances, social media, studio showcases
  • Negotiating and/or entering into and/or consenting to:
    • an agreement to perform covered services in the future, any new agreement related to merchandising connected to a covered project, the creation and use of digital replicas, including through the reuse of prior work
  • Performing on a trailer for a struck production or other ancillary content connected to a struck production

Additionally, SAG-AFTRA members must instruct their lawyers, agents, and/or other talent representatives to cease negotiations on their behalf for any new, pending, or future projects while the strike is ongoing.

SAG-AFTRA’s guidelines also reminded its members that they are bound by Global Rule One, which states that:

No member shall render any services or make an agreement to perform services for any employer who has not executed a basic minimum agreement with the union, which is in full force and effect, in any jurisdiction in which there is a SAG-AFTRA national collective bargaining agreement in place. This provision applies worldwide.

Exceptions to striking

Work by SAG-AFTRA members is permitted in the following circumstances:

1)  Independent productions

On a case-by-case basis, exceptions may be made for independent productions that agree to terms with SAG-AFTRA on an interim basis. Any such productions must be truly independent, without any producers or distributors attached during production who are members of the AMPTP.

While SAG-AFTRA’s interim agreements with such productions do not need to be based on the terms of their previous CBA and can include wage increases and other terms that have been included in their proposals throughout negotiations with the AMPTP, independent productions must agree to be bound retroactively to whatever contract terms eventually are achieved with the AMPTP when the strike is settled.

2)  Work covered by unaffected SAG-AFTRA contracts

Work is permitted if covered by the terms of other SAG-AFTRA agreements, including (but not limited to):

  • Network Television Code, which covers:
    • News broadcasts, talk shows and morning shows
    • Soap operas
    • Variety programming (including reality shows and game shows)
    • Sports programs
  • Union on-camera commercials
    • Such commercials cannot be promotional in nature for programs subject to a SAG-AFTRA agreement
  • Union voice-over/off camera commercials
  • Union industrials
  • Union corporate education
  • Union audiobooks
  • Union approved student films

3)  Certain voiceover work

SAG-negotiated voiceover work for animated projects, video games, and dubbing may be permitted as well on a case-by-case basis (to the extent such projects do not include any AMPTP members), but union members cannot move forward with such projects without approval from SAG-AFTRA’s national board. Those helming or involved in such projects are encouraged to discuss with SAG-AFTRA’s leadership before continuing work.

4)  Work covered by the Equity UK CBA

On Thursday, July 13, Equity UK (the UK’s actors’ guild) released a joint-statement with SAG-AFTRA: “Equity U.K. will support SAG-AFTRA and its members by all lawful means. Because of existing anti-trade union laws in the U.K., SAG-AFTRA members currently working under an Equity U.K. collective bargaining agreement should continue to report to work.”

According to guidance published by Equity, “under U.K. law, SAG-AFTRA is not permitted to discipline [SAG-AFTRA members] for continuing to work.”

Going forward

Find out more about the implications of these rules and exceptions by contacting any of the authors.