UPDATED: SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher on Monday scolded “naysayers” and “contrarians” who have criticized the union’s new contract.
Drescher defended the agreement during a Zoom meeting for SAG-AFTRA members on Monday morning.
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“Sadly there have been some naysayers who have exploited this momentum of ours,” Drescher said, appearing in a jungle-print bathrobe from her home. She said that throughout the negotiation, some people have “tried to tear down what was being done in the negotiating committee.”
The negotiating team reached a tentative deal last Wednesday that ended the union’s 118-day strike. The union’s national board approved the deal on an 86% vote on Friday, and sent it to the members for ratification.
The ratification process began Monday with the Zoom meeting to spell out the terms of the deal and take questions. More than 1,000 questions were submitted, and the union is expected to hold further meetings.
Drescher urged the membership to listen carefully to the details, “if you haven’t yet been poisoned by contrarians.”
She appeared to be alluding to Justine Bateman, the filmmaker and former “Family Ties” star, who tweeted several criticisms of the artificial intelligence provisions of the deal over the weekend.
SAG-AFTRA sought broad protections against the use of AI to create “digital replicas” without actors’ consent and compensation. The final deal includes many provisions the union demanded, but not all.
In particular, the deal allows AI models to “train” on actors’ performances to create synthetic, or “Frankenstein,” characters. Actors will be able to prevent that only if the final output includes the actors’ recognizable facial features.
The union sought to give itself a veto over the use of AI to create synthetic performances. But in the end, the union got only “notice” for such use.
In her tweets, Bateman argued that allowing synthetic performers is “anathema” to a union contract.
“This is akin to SAG giving a thumbs-up for studios/streamers using non-union actors,” she wrote. “I find it baffling that a union representing human actors would give approval of those same actors being replaced by an AI Object.”
Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the union’s chief negotiator, defended the AI terms of the deal in the Monday Zoom meeting.
“There are some aspects of this agreement that aren’t perfect,” he said. “This negotiating team fought so hard to get the best possible protections in artificial intelligence. We all play our hand. This hand that we have played from our perspective achieves what we set out.”
He also said it was not realistic to try to prevent the studios from using AI entirely.
“There was no way to just say ‘no’ to AI,” he argued. “There was never going to be a deal where they would agree to limit themselves from using any form of of AI.”
Crabtree-Ireland said that the studios are worried about agreeing to any AI limits that would not apply to competitors who are not subject to the SAG-AFTRA contract. He said that the studios have said that the primary use they envision in the near term would be for reshoots, and for other uses in connection with an actor’s employment on a project, rather than to create synthetic actors.
Crabtree-Ireland said that he discussed the AI issue with Bateman for “hours” on Sunday.
“Justine is justly cautious about the future,” he said. But, he argued that the AI terms are “the most that could be achieved with a 118-day strike.”
In another tweet, Bateman argued that the union’s acceptance of “digital doubles” would also be harmful to crew members, who would no longer have work to do if actors are replaced.
“SAG signing off on ‘synthetic performers’ and ‘digital doubles’ taking the place of human performances throws every crew member under the bus,” she wrote. “No human actors = no set and no crew.”
Drescher appeared to respond to that comment — though without mentioning Bateman by name — during the Zoom.
“I just want you to know that nobody was thrown under the bus,” Drescher said. “If you read things like that, it’s very inflammatory and unfortunate, because it’s using social media and chat rooms to advance someone’s personal agenda.”
Drescher added that there are “principled people who will vote over one issue or kill an entire deal that benefits so many because of one issue that was not obtained.”
“I implore you not to think that way,” she continued. “If you cannot wrap your mind around the fact that… we didn’t get that, but we got this, this, this and this, and we’ll get that next time… then you’re not you’re not a good negotiator. You don’t understand what the process is.”
Drescher said she would not “name names,” but said she felt compelled to “refute some of the low-level people who are buzzing in almost a way that I feel is detrimental to the greater good and kind of propagandize certain events in a way that’s unhealthy for the whole.”
Drescher also spoke about the guild’s new $40 million streaming residual bonus. The union had sought a $500 million share of streaming revenue, which Drescher called an “elegant” solution to the challenge of actors struggling to earn a living in streaming.
But the guild settled for the bonus, of which 75% will go to actors on the most popular streaming shows. The remaining 25%, or about $10 million, will go into a jointly administered fund for distribution to a wider group of actors.
“Look, for me, money’s money. It’s just as green wherever it comes from,” Drescher said. “I saw the revenue share as a means to an end, not the end itself.”
Toward the end, Crabtree-Ireland said that a top priority in the 2026 negotiation will be increasing the money going into the fund.
At beginning of the meeting, Drescher offered “Buddhist wisdom” to center the conversation.
“A good soldier is not violent,” she said. “A good fighter is not angry. A good winner is not vengeful. A good employer is humble.”
Later, she cited another bit of Buddhist philosophy in defending her approach to the deal.
“The tallest bamboo tree can lean the farthest,” she said. “And that’s what people need to do in a negotiation. In order to stand tall, you must be able to lean as well.”
Drescher also responded to a question about how best to characterize her robe. Her answer, via a SAG-AFTRA spokesperson: “The silk kimono began as a mulberry bush. Time and patience is the secret sauce.”
This story has been updated with further details from the meeting.
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