LOS ANGELES – Kerry Washington and Martin Sheen, a pair of fictional former politicos, turned Hollywood's strikes into a rousing campaign rally Tuesday with speeches celebrating unity across the industry and with labor at large.
“We are here because we know that unions matter,” said Washington, who played a political fixer on ABC’s “Scandal.” “Not only do we have solidarity within our union, we have solidarity between our unions, because we are workers.”
The rally outside Disney Studios in Burbank, California, coming more than a month into a strike by Hollywood actors and more than three months into a strike by screenwriters, was meant to highlight their alliance with the industry's other guilds and the nation's other unions, including the Teamsters and the AFL-CIO.
“The audacity of these studios to say they can’t afford to pay their workers after they make billions in profits is utterly ridiculous,” Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Yvonne Wheeler told the crowd. She added a dig at Disney's CEO, who has become a target of strikers. "But despite their money, they can’t buy this kind of solidarity. Tell Bob Iger that.”
Sheen, who played the president for seven seasons on “The West Wing,” was joined by most of the show's main cast members on the stage as he emphasized that the toll being taken as the strikes stretch out.
“Clearly this union has found something worth fighting for, and it is very costly,” Sheen said. “If this were not so we would be left to question its value.”
Washington also sought to highlight that high-profile guild members like her were once actors who struggled to find work and make a living, as the vast majority of members still are. She ran through the issues at the heart of both strikes, including compensation and studios and streaming services using artificial intelligence in place of actors and writers.
“We deserve to be able to be paid a fair wage. We deserve to have access to healthcare. We deserve to be free from machines pretending to be us," Washington said. “The dream of being working artist, the dream of making a living doing what we want to do, should not be impossible.”
Washington and others carefully avoided saying the names of the shows that made them famous, in observation of strike rules against promotion of studio projects.
The alliance of studios, streaming services and production companies that are the opposition in the strikes says it offered fair contracts to both unions before talks broke off that included unprecedented updates in pay and protections against AI.
Talks have restarted between the studios and writers, who went on strike May 2, though progress has been slow. There have been no negotiations with actors since they went on strike July 14.
The rally included many members and leaders of other Hollywood unions that unlike the striking guilds were able to make deals with the studios, including the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents most Hollywood crew members and struck an 11th hour deal to avoid a strike in 2021. That contract expires next year.
Some thought the Directors Guild of America would be a third Hollywood strike in 2023, but the group promptly reached a contract deal while talks for others sputtered. Yet its members have also been out of work, with nearly all major Hollywood productions shut down.
One of the DGA's officers, Paris Barclay, who directed episodes of both “Scandal” and “The West Wing,” told the crowd Tuesday that makes it essential that workers under contract support their striking colleagues.
“It’s not enough that one of us has a meal on the table," Barclay said, “until everybody has a meal on the table, nobody eats.”