Canadian unions that represent actors, stagehands hail tentative deal reached by U.S. screenwriters

ACTRA president Eleanor Noble speaks at a rally in Toronto on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. (Patrick Swadden/CBC - image credit)
ACTRA president Eleanor Noble speaks at a rally in Toronto on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. (Patrick Swadden/CBC - image credit)

Canadian unions that represent workers in the performing arts are thrilled that a tentative deal has been reached between striking screenwriters and Hollywood studios, but they say it will take some time before the impact is felt locally.

Alistair Hepburn, executive director of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) Toronto, which represents thousands of Canadian professional performers working in recorded media, said on Monday that the news is a "fantastic step in the right direction."

He added, however, that the strike by the Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) needs to be resolved first before the film and TV production industry will get up and running in Canada.

"We likely won't see a major impact in Toronto until the end of this year," Hepburn said. "We need to get the SAG-AFTRA strike solved, before we see a return to full production levels in Toronto."

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) reached the deal Sunday with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents studios, streaming services and production companies. The guild's board and members must approve the agreement before the nearly five-month-old strike officially ends.

Hollywood's actors remain on strike with no deal yet in the works.

The governing boards of the WGA's two branches are likely to vote on the contract Tuesday. With their approval, writers will then vote on the deal, and the strike can officially end. Network shows including NBC's The Tonight ShowStarring Jimmy Fallon and ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live! could return to the air within days.

Details of the agreement have not yet been made public or even shared with the writers themselves because the contract language is being finalized. But the WGA said in an email to members that the deal was "exceptional — with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership."

The 11,500 screenwriters walked off the job May 2 over issues of pay, the size of writing staffs and control of the use of artificial intelligence in scripts.

A view of an ACTRA rally in Toronto on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023.
A view of an ACTRA rally in Toronto on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023.

A view of an ACTRA rally in Toronto on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. (Patrick Swadden/CBC)

Hepburn said about 55 per cent to 60 per cent of film and TV production work in Toronto is U.S. based.

"It has had a massive impact on the work that is done here," he said.

The City of Toronto, meanwhile, said in a statement on Monday that it is "encouraged by what appears to be progress" by the news of a tentative agreement.

As for the Writers Guild of Canada (WGC), it said in a statement on Monday that it congratulates the WGA, its sister guild, for reaching a tentative agreement.

"This is a victory for workers in our industry in their fight for fairness and respect, and a testament to the power of union solidarity and global solidarity. This is a clear and ringing demonstration that workers are best protected when they are members of a union or guild," the WGC said.

The guild said the combined strikes have had a "detrimental effect" on Canada.

Added WGC executive director Victoria Shen: "We will be looking very closely at the details of the deal. We are heading into negotiations with the Canadian Media Producers Association in October."

News brings 'tremendous sense of relief,' IATSE says

John Lewis, international vice-president and director of Canadian affairs of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), said the tentative deal is good news for its members as well because the work stoppage south of the border has affected not only writers and actors, but also stagehands. He called it a "positive sign" for the future.

"Absolutely, there's a tremendous sense of relief in the industry in both countries, knowing that there is at least a tentative agreement, obviously subject to ratification by the membership," he said.

Lewis said he hopes the deal creates a domino effect and the actors union follows suit. He said he also hopes the deal will help his own union's negotiations. IATSE's contract will end in March.

"The Toronto film local is going into bargaining in January, so trust me, there's a sense of relief knowing that at least the writers strike is done, and hopefully will see the actors done before we have to go to the table," he said.

Toronto-based actor Yasmin Lau says it's been a tough year with writers and actors striking in the U.S. She said about 70 per cent of the work she does is through U.S. productions. She said she hopes the news of a tentative deal with writers will at least get things moving again.

"I've been in the industry for over 10 years now, and it's never been this slow," she said. "Hopefully, they'll start with pre-production at least, with the auditions that will get going."