While the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) deal is widely expected to pass, criticism — mainly over its perceived lack of protection against artificial intelligence — has swelled in recent weeks, raising jitters about a potential, if unlikely, return to picket lines.
Voting ended at 5:00 pm on the US West Coast (0100 Wednesday GMT), with a simple majority of members required to finally seal the agreement.
Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer and analyst, said an approval figure between 75 percent and 85 percent is “a realistic expectation.”
But should ratification fail, SAG-AFTRA would likely need to reopen talks with studios — who could themselves withdraw the terms previously offered — and a return to industrial action could beckon.
“I voted no. And I’m fully prepared to go back on strike. Absolutely 100 percent,” actor Michael Vaccaro, one of dozens of performers to speak out publicly against the terms, told AFP.
“By signing this thing, we gain nothing,” he added. “By going back out on strike, there’s the possibility to gain quite a bit.”
The tentative deal between SAG-AFTRA and Hollywood studios to end the actors’ 118-day strike was agreed last month.
It contained higher pay, better bonuses for starring in hit shows or films, and the first-ever protections against the use of artificial intelligence to replace human actors.
It was ratified by the union’s leadership two days later, though not unanimously.
Union leaders have since held meetings and sent out emails and social media posts to members, strongly urging them to approve the deal.
“Today is the day,” said SAG-AFTRA chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, in a social media video Tuesday.
“This is a big $1 billion deal with a lot of really important gains in areas like AI, minimums, streaming money,” he said. “It’s a deal that I’m really proud of.”
– Shortcomings? –
But over recent weeks as details of the agreement emerged, warnings began to circulate online about its shortcomings, particularly over the issue of AI.
Performers fear they could soon be replaced by entirely synthetic “actors,” generated by AI using the body parts of many different humans, whose likenesses have been scraped from film archives.
The deal does not prevent studios from using generative AI, but it has a clause requiring them to inform the union each time the technology is used.
SAG-AFTRA would then have the right to bargain for compensation on behalf of the actors involved — though critics say it would be hard to identify who these are.
Actors also say that the massive number of viewers a show or film needs to attract in order to trigger bonuses for its performers is too high for all but the very top echelon of hit shows.
Results of the vote are expected by late Tuesday local time.
“Because of the opposition, people naturally wonder ‘will it pass?’ And that leads to some nervousness and concern,” the lawyer-analyst Handel told AFP.
“But I think it’s highly likely that this will pass. It would be very startling if it didn’t.”