Union rally held in Los Angeles as part of the 2023 Writers' Strike

Source: Jim Ruymen / UPI / Shutterstock

Union rally held in Los Angeles as part of the 2023 Writers’ Strike

UK creative workers union Equity has posted a message of solidarity with SAG-AFTRA as it warned its own members about the legalities of joining the US actors Guild strike in the UK.

The union’s lawyers have advised that while the US strike scheduled to start on Friday is legal in the US it is not legal in the UK.

Equity wrote: ”You will see that the primary legal problem is this: We have been advised by SAG-AFTRA that its strike is lawful according to United States law but we have been advised by our UK lawyers that it is not lawful under United Kingdom law.

”Consequently, a performer joining the strike (or refusing to cross a picket line) in the UK will have no protection against being dismissed or sued for breach of contract by the producer or the engager.

”Likewise, if Equity encourages anyone to join the strike or not cross a picket line, Equity itself will be acting unlawfully and hence liable for damages or an injunction. What follows is based on that advice from SAG-AFTRA and our lawyers.”

The advisory came as SAG-AFTRA leadership announced their strike would start at midnight on Thursday after contract talks with Hollywood studios and streamers ended without resolution.

Equity members who do not belong to SAG-AFTRA and are working in the UK on an Equity contract for a US producer where some of their colleagues may be working under SAG-AFTRA agreements are advised to continue working and should not be prevented from doing so by a SAG-AFTRA picket. Equity lawyers have advised that continuing to work should not prejudice Equity members’ rights to join SAG-AFTRA in the future.

The same advice about continuing to work applies to cases where Equity members who also belong to SAG-AFTRA and live in the UK and are working in the UK on an Equity contract for a US producer. Under UK law, SAG-AFTRA is not allowed to discpine performers who continue to work. 

Equity’s message in solidarity appears below:

Statement from the General Secretary of Equity, Paul W Fleming

“SAG-AFTRA is Equity’s sister union representing performers on screen in the United States. They are currently in negotiations with the AMPTP - the engagers association for film and TV producers in the United States. Earlier this year, SAG-AFTRA balloted their members to achieve authorisation for strike action if it was necessary to achieve a good settlement in these negotiations. Today, SAG-AFTRA’s Board has taken the brave step of authorising a strike.

“SAG-AFTRA’s claim to the producers contains many critical elements for performers on their agreements. The key elements of the claim are longstanding, shared fights for our unions –issues like pay and residual payments. But SAG-AFTRA, like Equity, is also bravely facing head-on existential questions on issues like Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the rise in virtual auditions and self-tapes. Securing fairness in pay, terms, and conditions is critical whether they be with traditional producers, or new global streamers, and with new modes of making and distributing work to a global audience.

“Equity stands full square behind our sister union in their claim, and the action their Board have agreed to take. Equity too is experiencing bullish engagers attempting to undermine its collectively bargained agreements. SAG-AFTRA has our total solidarity in this fight.

“We say clearly to the AMPTP and their members that they need to move significantly and swiftly to meet the reasonable aspirations of SAG-AFTRA’s members. The members of our unions, and all entertainment unions across the globe, create the vast wealth within our industry – it is right and just that they have decent, modern pay and conditions.

“Equity has been in constant contact with our sister union throughout the negotiations at every level – including the President and General Secretary attending in person in Los Angeles earlier this month. We will continue to work closely and collaboratively on advice for artists working in the United Kingdom as the situation develops.

“Industrial relations legislation in the United Kingdom is draconian, and often viewed as the most restrictive in the Western world. The convoluted and pernicious hurdles faced by all unions in the United Kingdom are a national disgrace and need urgent reform. The regrettable consequence of this framework is that what artists working in the United Kingdom – whether SAG-AFTRA and/or Equity members (or both) – can do, may be different from their comrades in the United States and other parts of the world.

“Equity is fighting alongside the rest of the trade union movement in the UK to reform our illiberal industrial relations framework in parliament, in the courts, and on the streets.

“Detailed advice for artists working in the UK who are Equity and/or SAG-AFTRA members is set out below. Furthermore, Equity will be organising demonstrations, rallies, and protests in the coming days and weeks to show our solidarity with our sister union and their fight.

“As Equity’s motto says: To all artists good work. To all workers good art. To all people: Equity.

“And to SAG-AFTRA: Victory.”