Words by Abigail Vela
The WGA (Writers Guild of America) strike just reached 100 days, SAG-AFTRA’s (Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) strike has lasted over three weeks, and the pressure continues to build for screenwriters and performers who are struggling to make ends meet; Today, strikes continue as members demand better compensation, protections against AI, and updates to their contract, amongst other things. Meanwhile, the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) refuses to move forward with negotiations.
Lorena Abreu, RGV native, stunt woman, parkour athlete, and activist, spoke to us about the strike at her family’s gym, Kiskeya: a multidisciplinary athletics facility located in Pharr, Texas, that promotes “joy through movement.” Her family, originating from the Dominican Republic, migrated to New York and relocated to the Rio Grande Valley when she was six. In a region brimming with predominantly Mexican culture, she experienced various culture shock moments, especially with language. “Like we got Dominicans saying wei now,” she laughs.
Lorena’s knowledge, compassion, and righteousness contributed to our understanding and awareness of labor rights, wage disparity, and income inequality nationwide.
SAG-AFTRA is a national labor union that represents over “160,000 actors, announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists and other media professionals.” Nearly 98 percent of the union decided to strike.
Lorena is a current member of SAG-AFTRA and explained one of the main reasons behind the strike: “Eighty-seven percent of our union didn’t make the $26,000 necessary through SAG jobs to qualify for our health insurance. The overwhelming majority of the union doesn’t even make $26,000 a year working in TV and movies and radio shows, whatever you have it.”
She debunks the misconception that the strike is just an “actors” strike or only affects “A-list actors.” However, A-list actors are helping leverage the bargaining power of their union. “We literally work off the backs of [A-list] actors,” Lorena says. “No one in the union is mad that they are able to leverage the bargaining power that they have. They’re the ones that have the name recognition to get people into theaters, to get studios, to invest in projects, and to get us work. And that’s also the level of work that all of us aspire to anyways.”
The last time that both SAG-AFTRA and the WGA went on strike was in 1960, when they demanded, similarly to this time around, better pay, implementation of health insurance and pension plans, and residuals. Lorena explained, “Residuals are the money that a television show or a movie continues to make when it gets re-screened, re-released, and replayed throughout the world. This contract has been changed little by little over the years. Most of us would argue not enough. And we’re at the point, especially with the way streaming is structured after the pandemic, that this contract cannot apply to the business model.”
According to Lorena, streaming companies keep viewership numbers a secret, only releasing subscription numbers. However, SAG-AFTRA’s leadership found a third-party technology called Parrot Analytics that determines a show’s overall impact on a company’s revenue.
Lorena adds, “They made a proposal and said, here we have an independent party that is able to track viewership of individual shows on your platforms to determine how our residuals, which are based on a percentage, should be structured. And [AMPTP] said, no, absolutely not. They don’t pay us residuals on streaming shows.”
One of the main concerns plaguing Hollywood is the use of AI, which may displace actors, performers, and entertainers. Lorena remarked, “We want consent, compensation, and control over our images. [People] might’ve already heard that in their AI proposals, the AMPTP proposed that they would scan any background actors for one day’s worth of pay and have permission to use their image for whatever they wanted in perpetuity.”
Lorena Abreu continued further, stating that SAG-AFTRA is demanding a system of regulation around self-tapes, “Since no one could go into casting offices during the pandemic, they started asking people for self-tapes […] We need to structure a system of regulation so they don’t abuse it. And this also provides a monetary and technological barrier of entry to actors that might not have access to the equipment to do self-tapes or the financial means.”
It’s no secret that income inequality has been a part of our reality in America. As Lorena candidly stressed, “One of the things that I appreciate the most about our union leadership is that they’re emphasizing the fact that this is a microcosm of what’s happening at a large scale in every industry across the world. These issues of income inequality and greed, [and] the potential abuse of AI. […] It’s really a global cause that applies to almost every industry. So what happens here is extremely important.”