Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

SAG-AFTRA members bring the strike to Northampton

SAG-AFTRA members gather in Pulaski Park in support of the ongoing nationwide strike against major entertainment studios
Jack Underhill
Daily Collegian(2023)

SAG-AFTRA members gathered in Pulaski Park in Northampton, Mass. on Thursday, Sept. 21, to rally support for the nationwide strike against major entertainment studios.

Around 40 attendees were present, with many adorned in black t-shirts with a graphic of yellow tape labeled “SAG-AFTRA on strike.” Similarly styled picket signs were distributed to the crowd.

The energy in the park was that of an empowering anger with an assortment of chants that reiterated the union’s unrelenting nature.

The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) brings together two labor unions representing 160,000 members across the country.

The SAG-AFTRA New England Local represents around 4,000 of those members.

Daily Collegian(2023) (Jack Underhill)

Since July 14, the union has been on strike after the contract between Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) and SAG-AFTRA ended and both organizations failed to agree on a new contract.

Members are demanding residual payments that keep stride with the increase of streaming services, wage increases and protection against the use of artificial intelligence to replicate actors without their consent. Those who occupied Pulaski Park voiced these same demands.

Rafael Silva is a 29-year-old actor from Malden, Mass. who became a SAG member in 2020. He voiced his concern over residuals, which are long-term payments to actors for films that are rerun or aired after their initial release.

“We’ve transitioned from, you know, regular TV to now streaming. The residuals have dwindled, have pretty much evaporated,” he said. “And so your typical working-class actor is not seeing a return for the time that they’re spending on these productions.”

When asked how the strike has been affecting him, Silva said it has been tough. He referenced a film he was working on as a lead actor before the strike. He chose to not disclose the name of the film for the sake of the strike.

“It’s one of those moments right now where I just want to go back to work man, I just want to be able to, you know, continue telling stories,” he said.

To Ted Garland, a SAG-AFTRA board member from Natick, Mass., the use of AI to upload an actor’s image and use it in film is at the forefront of his concern.

“They can make you say and do anything, you know, forever and not pay you for it. I mean, not only does it make you vulnerable,” he said. “You’re being exploited.”

Garland added that while the strike is proving to be a struggle, actors’ often sporadic work schedule has made them adaptable.

“Because we can have caviar or we can have ramen noodles. It doesn’t matter,” Garland said. “I think that’s the challenge for the producers because I’m not sure they were quite ready for that.”

Daily Collegian(2023) (Jack Underhill)

The rally transitioned into a listening session where various attendees had the chance to speak to the crowd. One of which was Gary Galone, an actor from Massachusetts and a SAG member since 1989.

“I failed to qualify for my tier two medical benefits in 2022, despite having the busiest stretch I have had as an actor,” said Galone.

During that time, one of the projects he worked on was for the film, “CODA,” which won the SAG Best Ensemble Award and the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2022. The film was eventually bought by Apple for $25 million.

“I have a pretty darn good scene I’m proud of in that movie,” said Galone. “My residuals after two and a half years have not scratched $1,000, and it’s wrong, and we have to continue to fight, so stay strong.”

SAG members came from across the state, but many saw Northampton as a great location to hold the rally as it is known for its creative and artistic environment.

Ayana Brown, a SAG member and actress who grew up in Amherst, emphasized that western Massachusetts, while not as well known for filmmaking as Boston, is still valuable in the industry.

“We certainly want to earn awareness that, you know, there are performers out this way and we want to bring more content, we want to bring more productions to this area,” she said.

Garland also noted the value of holding the rally in western Massachusetts: “So I think part of being here is just saying, ‘Hey, you know, it’s all not happening in New York and LA, it’s happening in, you know, small towns across America.”

While SAG-AFTRA members were the majority of the attendees at the rally, other labor organizations were also present. The Western Massachusetts Labor Federation organized the event and those from the United Auto Workers and the Hampshire-Franklin Labor Assembly spoke in support during the session.

“So we’re standing up in the UAW for the rights of auto workers, but we have to stand up as an entire labor movement to fight for the working class,” said UAW Local 2322 President Patrick Burke.

Andrea Lyman, the first Black president of the SAG-AFTRA New England Local, was one of the last to speak at the rally: “And as we rally, our steps reverberate with the legacy of generations, who fought for workers’ rights and continue to fight for workers’ rights, reminding us that our struggle is a torch passed down through time,” said Lyman.

The rally ended with a final call and response led by Lyman, where she asked, “When we fight?” to the response of, “We win!”

On Sept. 26, leaders of the Writers Guild of America decided to lift its strike, reaching a “tentative deal” with major studios. No negotiations have been made between the studios and SAG-AFTRA.

Jack Underhill can be reached at [email protected] or followed on X @JackUnderhill16.

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