On May 2, 2023, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) officially went on strike, its 11,500 screenwriting members refusing to work on any projects with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), most commonly referred to as “the studios” in media coverage. Seventy-three days later, Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) followed suit, sending approximately 65,000 performers to the picket lines. It marked the first time the two unions have struck simultaneously since 1960.
In late September, after nearly five months of striking, the WGA and the AMPTP reached a tentative agreement, effectively ending the work stoppage. Still, talks with SAG-AFTRA have yet to resume as of this writing. While it is unknown how the end of WGA’s strike will affect their performing counterparts, the solidarity expressed thus far suggests that SAG-AFTRA is equally committed to achieving a fair and supportive deal for their membership.
To get the picket line perspective, CC Magazine reached out to Sam Seder ’88 (Bob’s Burgers, The Majority Report with Sam Seder) and H. Jon Benjamin ’88 (Archer, Bob’s Burgers). Both have experienced Hollywood as writers and performers since the 1990s and are active members of SAG-AFTRA.
CC Magazine: While this is the first SAG-AFTRA strike of your career, you were both in the business during the commercial actors strike in 2000 and the writers’ strike back in 2007/2008. Why strike now, and how does this strike compare?
Sam Seder: I think it comes down to three things. First, it’s just harder to make a good living in this industry than it was 15-20 years ago, so people have less to lose. Second, there is a general and maybe generational shift in how people view labor relations today. Third, social media makes it much harder for the producers to dominate the media narrative.
I was a member of the WGA back in the last strike in ’07, and it felt like there was much more dissent among the members than today. It’s hard for me to gauge, but I think members have become more determined since the beginning of the strike.
CC: The rise of AI and streaming seem to have altered the playing field considerably as well. How do you see that coming into play?
H. Jon Benjamin: Streaming has changed the nature of the business model entirely. The AI issue affects both categories—actors and writers—equally. I can see a future where AI takes up a large footprint in the entertainment industry, replacing a lot of jobs. I worry about that for the next generation of writers and actors. I mean, I’m predominantly a voice actor. I might be one of the easiest to replace.
SS: The streamers and the “old studios” have fundamentally misaligned interests. Apple, Amazon and Netflix do not have the same constraints, incentives and models as the old studios they are now partnered with. I think tech company culture devalues labor more than the old studios, and it shows in the attitude that has leaked from the producers.
CC: While strikes by their nature are contentious, the studios and streamers seem more aggressive this time around. Does it feel that way on the ground?
HJB: The studios deciding to not negotiate for months is a clear sign of how they operate. The posture of the studios now seems particularly, almost cartoonishly—see what I did there—cruel. No negotiating and a lot of harsh criticisms in the press, like the Bob Iger interview, for example, where he commented something like, “Let’s see how the workers feel in the late fall when they can’t pay their bills.”
CC: How has the strike impacted workers across the industry?
HJB: I would say it has impacted most those who work day to day on the productions which I work on—animators, editors, production staff. They are out of work, and it’s case by case whether or not they pull a salary. This coming off the pandemic, it’s been a tough five years in the industry. A lot of discord and uncertainty.
My girlfriend is a set decorator and her peers are really hurt by the strike. In some cases, some of them—not all—veer toward blaming the unions for striking. But this is the nature of strikes. They are divisive and difficult and have collateral damage.
CC: Is there anything you’ve learned during the strike that has surprised you about your peers or the business you have been in for nearly 30 years?
HJB: People scapegoat actors and writers as “Hollywood elite” and so forth. I carved out a career that gave me financial security, but I am a real outlier. Most actors and writers struggle to make a living. Not exactly elite. I have to argue that a strike was necessary.
In my 30 years, this happens as a matter of course. Unions made more suitable deals for cable residuals, and then streaming companies came in and found a way to erase residuals. The union fight is ongoing all the time.
CC: What’s it like on the picket lines? In the larger acting and writing community?
SS: I’ve interviewed negotiators from SAG-AFTRA and WGA on my show, and it’s interesting to see this solidarity in the context of the larger labor movement. People are into it. We never seem to want for numbers.
HJB: Having actors and writers on the line is pretty uplifting. It’s pretty festive. Actors and writers are creative people, and that’s evident on the picket line—a lot of clever signs and slogans. My hope is that union density grows, in all sectors. Like in the ’50s. Let’s get back to the ’50s in that respect only.
Above: Linda and Bob Belcher on a recent episode of the Emmy Award-winning Bob’s Burgers on FOX. H. Jon Benjamin ’88 is the voice of Bob Belcher and Sam Seder ’88 voices Hugo, another recurring character on the animated comedy series. ©2023 by Fox Media LLC. Used with permission.