Northampton Rally Puts AI Risk at the Forefront of Actors Guild Concerns


  • SAG-AFTRA members gather in Northampton’s Pulaski Park, continuing their strike against streaming companies and AI job displacement.
  • Concerns over AI’s impact on acting careers drive the union’s fight, emphasizing the uniqueness of human emotion in the profession.
  • Residual pay disputes from streaming services also a significant factor, with actors demanding fair compensation for their work.

The labor union SAG-AFTRA, which represents actors and other media performers nationwide, held a rally at Northampton’s Pulaski Park on Thursday. The union is currently on strike in protest of what it views as the unfair business practices of streaming services and the impending threat of artificial intelligence replacing jobs.

AI risks threaten actors’ control and craft

Around 100 members of the union gathered at Pulaski Park, passionately advocating for their rights and raising concerns about the future of their profession in the era of artificial intelligence. The demonstration featured guest speakers, including Andrea Lyman, the president of SAG-AFTRA New England and the first Black woman elected to the position, who emphasized that their battle transcends compensation; it’s about retaining control over their image and voice. The crux of their concerns revolves around AI’s potential to replace background actors or misuse actors’ likeness and AI-generated voices without their consent.

Ellyana Stanton, a SAG-AFTRA member from Amherst, voiced her doubts about AI’s compatibility with the acting profession, stressing the irreplaceable human element of emotion that actors bring to their roles. She argued that AI could never resonate with audiences the way human actors can.

Residual pay dispute escalates

Another critical issue driving the strike is the dispute over residual pay from streaming services. Gary Galone, a SAG-AFTRA member with appearances in streaming-exclusive movies like “CODA” on Apple TV and “The Boston Strangler” on Hulu, revealed that his residuals from these projects had barely reached $1,000 over more than two years. This disparity in compensation has fueled the determination of the striking actors.

Ben Shallop, a senior representative for the New England SAG-AFTRA local, provided context by stating that the union comprises 200 to 300 members residing in western Massachusetts and a total of 4,000 members spread across New England. The rally aimed to connect with members where they are.

Ayana Brown, a SAG-AFTRA member from Springfield, stressed the importance of better pay for actors who create the content that streaming services profit from. She joined the rally in solidarity with her fellow members.

Solidarity amidst a larger labor movement

The SAG-AFTRA strike stands as one of several labor disputes occurring across the country in recent months. The Writer’s Guild of America, representing screenwriters and television writers, is also currently in the midst of a strike. Additionally, the United Auto Workers have authorized a strike against automobile giants Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis.

At Thursday’s rally, members of other local labor unions showed their support for the SAG-AFTRA strike. Jeff Jones, the president of the Western Mass Area Labor Federation, highlighted the strike’s place within a broader labor movement, urging for organized efforts to secure fair contracts for workers.

Amy Calandrella, a member of the Operating Engineers Local 98 union representing heavy equipment operators in western Massachusetts, expressed admiration for the collective efforts of SAG-AFTRA and other unions. She emphasized the value of labor and the need for fair treatment in the workforce.

The Actors Guild rally in Northampton’s Pulaski Park united SAG-AFTRA members in their fight against unfair corporate practices by streaming companies and the growing threat of AI displacing acting jobs. Their concerns about AI’s impact on the craft and the persistent issue of inadequate residual pay underscore the depth of their commitment to securing a better future for actors in the entertainment industry.

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Aamir Sheikh

Amir is a media, marketing and content professional working in the digital industry. A veteran in content production Amir is now an enthusiastic cryptocurrency proponent, analyst and writer.

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