Hollywood’s unionized actors and writers rallied outside the Manhattan offices of Amazon and HBO on Tuesday, Aug. 22, with a few hundred of their unionized friends, in an effort to show their labor muscle.
“This contract is about healthcare,” said SAG-AFTRA member Alphonso Walker Jr. “I want to be sure I’ll be able to take care of myself when I’m not at work. Most times as an actor, you’re not on set all the time—you have what I call survival jobs. Acting is not necessarily what everyone is able to do full time. People are trying to make a living at this, trying to support their families.”
WGA members began their strike on May 2 and SAG-AFTRA members stopped work on Hollywood projects on July 14. Negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) have remained stalled over issues such as fair compensation for work that ends up on streaming video services like Netflix, Amazon, and HBO; how artificial intelligence will be used; and sustainable health and retirement funds.
Jose Cruz, who is now retired but still a supporter of his LiUNA Laborers Local 79, said he knew it was important to come out and support the WGA and SAG-AFTRA workers after coming to New York in the 1980s and working here for decades. He said it’s important for union workers to show their strength in situations like this. “We have to show that we are fighting for the city,” he said. “If we want to keep it, help it to grow, we have to support unions, or we’ll be in very bad conditions.”
Alphonso Walker Jr. said the day of protest was energizing, but not working has been tough. “What I’ve been trying to do is stay my course, keep my faith, remembering who I am outside of what I do. Because it gets lonely and it gets confusing; you have to think about ‘how am I going to eat, how am I going to put food on my table?’
“Listen,” he added, “I’ve been praying a lot, I’ve been praying a lot! God is good; God is good all the time. And look, when they see us out here, all these numbers of all these people out here, they have to concede and give us what we need.”