Hollywood and the collateral damage of strikes

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The current Hollywood strike by writers and actors has forced several others who don’t have an issue with the studios to stop working. It’s a major burden for them but the striking unions are saying in effect, sorry, but you’ll just have to suffer until we can get what we want.

A case in point is Hollywood publicists. The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) has told actors that not only must they refrain from performing during the strike but they cannot do any publicity for movies, TV series, or serials either.

The firms that handle this publicity work have been effectively shut down despite the fact that they have no conflict with the actors, the writers, or the studios. That’s especially tough luck for them because many of these businesses don’t have deep reserves of cash and some are still recovering from the work stoppages during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The owners of midsize firms told the Hollywood Reporter that if the strike continues through September or October they’ll have to start laying off employees.

“I am just barely covering my overhead, and that’s while not paying myself, because I do not want to lay off one person. In the meantime, we are desperately trying to sign new sorts of clients to bring in some business,” the anonymous owner of one “boutique firm” told the publication.

Another publicist said that even the big firms are hurting.

This type of economic collateral damage is part of the point of a strike. It’s not just about workers putting pressure on management, but also about causing problems for third parties in the hopes that that prompts them to use their clout to also pressure management to settle.

That doesn’t appear to be happening in Hollywood yet. Solidarity between the groups is in short supply. Publicists held a Zoom meeting with leaders of SAG-AFTRA on Tuesday that was “pretty horrific,” they told the Hollywood Reporter.

“They addressed it by basically saying, ‘Sorry you are all losing your jobs, but it is for the good of the actors and our mission,’” another anonymous publicist said.

The publicists are just one of the other groups being idled by the strike. Other workers that depend on film and television productions, like stunt performers, set designers, film editors, makeup artists and so on are doubtlessly in a similar situation.

Tuesday’s apparent victory by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters over UPS has sent a signal to the broader union movement that striking can get them what they want. So far, there’s little indication that SAG-AFTRA or the Writer’s Guild of America or the studios are bending. That means all of Hollywood is effectively on the picket line, whether they can afford it or not.