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Hollywood CEOs and Industry Insiders Seek Federal Mediation to Help Avert SAG-AFTRA Strike

Mark Ruffalo (Courtesy of GC Images)

Top Hollywood players are working on a plan to call in federal mediators to help avert a SAG-AFTRA strike, with just a day to go before the contract deadline.

A group of CEOs and senior executives, including Disney TV chief Dana Walden and film chief Alan Bergman, Warner Bros. Discovery’s David Zaslav and Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, gathered by conference call Monday evening to discuss the urgent situation with SAG-AFTRA poised to go on strike as soon as Thursday. In addition to the executives discussing efforts to bring in a federal mediator, talent agency chieftains including Ari Emanuel of WME, Bryan Lourd of CAA and UTA’s Jeremy Zimmer have reached out to SAG-AFTRA leaders in recent days to offer assistance that could stave off a second Hollywood work stoppage this summer. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the major studios, has requested assistance from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. It is not yet clear whether SAG-AFTRA, which represents 160,000 members, will be amenable to the idea as it would require extending its negotiations for a second time. The SAG-AFTRA contract is currently set to expire at midnight PT on Wednesday, and the two sides remain at odds on a host of issues, including streaming residuals, increases in minimum rates and artificial intelligence. There has been relatively little progress in the last few days, and it has begun to look increasingly likely that a strike will occur. The contract was originally set to expire on June 30, but the two sides agreed to a 12-day extension.

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

On Monday, SAG-AFTRA leaders briefed entertainment publicists about the 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 called for volunteers to serve as strike captains, and members were out on the WGA picket lines on Tuesday getting training from WGA captains at several Hollywood studios.

The Biden administration recently dispatched Julie Su, the acting labor secretary, to help broker an agreement that prevented the shutdown of the West Coast ports. The hope from the management side is that a federal mediator would be seen as a neutral third party to help move the sides toward a compromise that would be more acceptable to the union’s rank-and-file members if it flowed through a mediator. Sources close to the negotiations say the AMPTP representatives and member company leaders are frustrated at what they see as SAG-AFTRA’s intransigence. There’s a strong feeling that a militant minority in the union is having outsize influence on the negotiating strategy, with no regard to the heavy toll that a strike would take on actors as well as other unions and myriad businesses that bank on production-related work.

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

Variety's Gene Maddaus, Cynthia Littleton contributed to this post.


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