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Hollywood labor disputes 'headed down to crunch time' amid ongoing strikes, reporter says



Media reporter Claire Atkinson joins ABC News Live to discuss the impacts of the strikes on both sides of the dispute and whether there could be a resolution soon.

With Labor Day fast approaching, so is the official end of the season – one that's been dubbed the "Hot Labor Summer" following a series strikes in a range of sectors – from hospitality to sanitation to Entertainment.

There are the hotel workers protesting in California, demanding fair wages. Sanitation workers and nurses have also walked out on the job after asking for safer working conditions. The United Auto Workers just passed a measure approving a strike if they're unable to negotiate a deal in the next few weeks.

Then there are the writers and actors in Hollywood who are bringing studio lots to a standstill and helping bring reality TV back to millions of households this fall as networks dig deep to find a content solution.

Media reporter Claire Atkinson, host of Media Mix podcast and contributing editor for The Ankler, joined ABC News Live to discuss the far-reaching impacts of the strikes on both sides of the dispute and whether or not there could be a resolution any time soon.

PHOTO: SAG-AFTRA members walk a picket line in support of the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strike outside Warner Bros. Discovery Headquarters on Aug. 31, 2023 in New York City.
SAG-AFTRA members walk a picket line in support of the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strike outside Warner Bros. Discovery Headquarters on Aug. 31, 2023 in New York City.
Ndz/star Max/GC Images

PHIL LIPOF: When this began, we heard Fran Drescher come out with some very strong words. Let's take a listen.

[The following quote is from the SAG-AFTRA president's fiery speech in July.]

DRESCHER: I am shocked by the way the people that we have been in business with are treating us. I cannot believe that, quite frankly, how far apart we are on so many things, how they plead poverty, that they're losing money left and right when giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs. It is disgusting. Shame on them.

LIPOF: Okay, so strong words, but that was back on July 13th. Does it surprise you that we've not heard much from her in the last week or so? Two weeks?

CLAIRE ATKINSON: Yeah, it's been quiet. We are headed down to crunch time now. It's October [sic]. The industry is feeling the pinch. We're seeing layoffs at the talent agencies, layoffs at production companies. We're hearing from people telling my colleague Elaine Lo, who has been on the picket lines every single day, that they're thinking about getting out of the industry. So there's been very little movement this summer.

LIPOF: Next year's summer movie slate is already up in the air. The fall film festivals will be almost totally starless. So we've seen some things happen. Foodbanks are going up. It sounds as though a major point of pain is for the writers and actors, but do you think the major companies are feeling it yet or is it really just with the actors?

MORE: Writers Guild sharply rebukes latest offer from Hollywood studios

ATKINSON: I mean, I do think they're feeling it and that they're in a financial crunch right now. As affluent as those studio bosses are, their bosses are Wall Street, essentially, and they have to make sure that they are delivering profits from these streaming ventures. And at the moment, these ventures are not profitable. It's very cheap to watch these shows and get these services.

We're seeing Disney today in a fight with Charter over the distribution of those channels. The Disney channels have gone dark on Charter, because that cable company is saying "You're giving away these streaming services and so we're not going to pay you big increases for them." And so lots of problems for the studios every which way they look.

LIPOF: And you mentioned Disney, so this would be a good opportunity for us to mention that ABC News' parent company is Disney, a member of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers that is negotiating with the writers and actors.

This feels a little bit different this time. There's been a lot of talk of increased pay, mandatory staffing needs, writers being present on set, AI and more. But to what extent is transparency at the heart of this?

ATKINSON: I think it's incredibly important. In the U.K., in France and Germany, a lot of writers, actors, producers, they get details of how their shows did on Netflix, and the U.S. counterparts are saying, "Well, if they can have it, why can't we?"

With the streaming evolution, what we've seen is a rush to get shows out of the door. We had COVID, and then there was this huge need to rush shows out into production to win the races between these different services to beat Netflix. And now there's a huge pull back and everybody is saying, we've spent the billions and now we got to do cost savings.

MORE: Writers Guild sharply rebukes latest offer from Hollywood studios

LIPOF: So I'll just ask you what I asked you last time, and you probably have the same answer, but it's the million dollar question. With what we've seen so far, do you see anyone giving in any time soon or any kind of resolution?

ATKINSON: I think the studios have to come back and give some more. I'm going to say that. I think that the WGA has to think about what their compromise is going to be, and that has to be – perhaps that's being back-channeled right now and we don't know about it. With every union strike, and you referred to quite a few of them in the intro, there's trash talk and there is intransigence, because everybody wants to get what they want.

But, you know, the problem is, the layoffs will spread. There'll be more harm in the industry. We've already had to come back from COVID and now the industry is going to be coming back from the strikes. And how do these folks sit opposite each other and have polite conversations after they've been trashing each other with signs on the picket lines? I mean, that's another question. There's bad blood here. How does the industry get over that to a place where everybody can be partners again?

LIPOF: Yeah, you're right. Coming out of COVID, people were so hurt, especially in that industry financially. Coming out of COVID, to have this now, you know, hope for a resolution for everybody involved.

ATKINSON: Absolutely.

LIPOF: Claire Atkinson thanks so much. It's always a pleasure to see you.

Disney is the parent company of ABC News.