SAG-AFTRA Looks Ahead To 2026 Contract, Eyes Sit Down With Studios Over A.I. Next Month

Following 118 days on strike, SAG-AFTRA secured a deal with the studios that was worth over $1B that it said had ““unprecedented provisions”.

But the guild isn’t resting on its laurels, it’s already looking ahead to its next contract with the AMPTP in 2026.

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Over the weekend, SAG-AFTRA’s EVP, Linda Powell, LA VP Jodi Long, who is also LA Local President and SAG-AFTRA VP, Actors/Performers Shari Belafonte were in Denver at SeriesFest to discuss the contract and what’s next for the guild.

The trio discussed the contract gains, including new money for healthcare, protections on AI, new measures on self-tapes and the guild’s new streaming residual bonus.

But they also highlighted the fact that there’s another contract to negotiate in 2026.

Powell said she was “feeling ready for the next fight”.

“We’re watching A.I., we’ve got a lot of legislation going on to try and cover some of the loopholes in A.I. but I think we’re also going to watch how that technology develops and be ready to make any changes or tweaks or additions that need to be made. There’s some that we left on the table that that we’re going to go back and try again. The exciting thing is that I feel like we’re in a more powerful position because of having a struck that [the studios] take us very seriously now, as they should. There’s a sense among membership that we can push the envelope a little more, and it’ll bend,” Powell said.

Long praised the leadership of Fran Drescher and Duncan Crabtree-Ireland and admitted that while being a little more “rested” since November, they’re still a “little shell-shocked”.

“I do think that we’re going to see what comes up, we’re also going to address it every six months, even the self-tapes. There’s stuff that is being fudged here and there.”

The streaming residual bonus was one of the big wins for SAG-AFTRA. For shows streaming on services such as Netflix, Amazon and Apple, a bonus is paid if they receive enough domestic “views” in their first 90 days to be equivalent to 20% of the streaming service’s domestic subscribers.

For SAG-AFTRA, any title that surpasses the viewership threshold will trigger a payment to each principal performer equivalent to 100% of the fixed residual. However, the performer will only receive 75% of that payment. The other 25% will be funneled into a fund controlled by both SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP trustees to be distributed among the rest of the union’s members.

How that money will be distributed is now something that SAG-AFTRA is figuring out.

Powell said that how the other 25% of the fund will be distributed is being worked out now and will likely be a decision for a combination of the negotiating committee and the trustees.

“It’s something we’re still trying to figure out. There’s a lot of opinions. It’s something we’re going to have to negotiate amongst ourselves and play out each different circumstance and see what does the most for the most people,” she added.

Belafonte said that the streaming residual bonus is important as the current system of 24 episodes on broadcast television is largely being eschewed for shorter runs on streaming.

“How do we make sure that there is some money, some revenue that comes in. It’s baby steps, it’s not as much as we wanted us to get, but at least we broke that mold. This is something that was extremely new in our negotiations… and hopefully, it’ll be more and more [in the future],” she added.

Drescher has previously said that she hopes that the benchmark goes from 20% of viewers to 10% of viewers. Powell said it was important for SAG-AFTRA to get its “foot in the door”. “Then we can open it a little more next time.”

On A.I, SAG-AFTRA won its first-ever protections around this new technology. At the time of the contract, both sides said that they would sit down every six months to discuss. Powell hinted that these discussions might start next month.

Long, who has starred in movies such as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, said that she was scanned in 2020 for a movie. “At the time, it was not in my contract and it was a big movie,” she said. “We went in the [negotiating] room and I said [to the AMPTP], so you have my scan now. What happens? Where is it, first of all? What happens if you decide to do a prequel or a sequel in 10 years, and you have this scan, and I’m dead? So, now we actually have provisions for that. If someone passes away and [the studio] wants to use it, they have to inform either their estate or SAG-AFTRA. They have to say what kind of use, not to make them naked or something unless they want it. Now they have to have consent and they have to be paid.”

Not all SAG-AFTRA members were happy about the A.I protections, including Justine Bateman, who said the “loopholes” would “collapse the structure” of Hollywood.

Powell said she understood those concerns but doesn’t think there’s “enough leverage in the world” to keep the studios from using new technology. “Barring that, getting 14 new pages of language in, putting in guardrails, making sure that we have conversations of the time of the contract [was important],” she said. “In two and a half years, we’ll be back. We’re watching this, it is moving quickly. But we’re moving quickly too.”

IATSE is currently negotiating their own contract with the studios and will be followed by the Teamsters. Both unions stood with SAG-AFTRA and the WGA during their fights and the trio said that it was important to stand in solidarity with them if needed.

“From day one, they really had our backs, so shame on us if we don’t, we plan to,” said Powell.

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