On Thursday, February 22, students from more than two dozen colleges demanded their institutions “cancel their contracts with Starbucks in protest against the company’s response to union organizing efforts,” according to TheGuardian (UK).
Students from California to New York - in conjunction with Starbucks Workers United - pointed to the coffee giant’s less-than-worker-friendly tactics in dealing with demands for unionizing. Restaurant Dive lists some of those tactics, which include “workplace surveillance and diluting the electoral pool at unionizing locations, firing workers involved with the union in alleged retaliation, and alleged solicitation of grievances in an effort to stymie union organizing.”
The powerful cede power only when forced to, and it’ll be most interesting to see what effect these and other protests have on Starbucks’ policy. The Guardian reports that . . .
“nearly 400 Starbucks stores around the US have won union elections to join Starbucks Workers United since December 2021...but a first union contract for any store has yet to be reached.”
As any giant corporation would, Starbucks claimed there’s nothing to see here, folks, just move along now...Several sources quote a spokesperson for the coffee chain: “While we remain longstanding advocates of civil discourse, our focus is on fulfilling our promise to offer a bridge to a better future for all partners – through competitive pay, industry-leading benefits for part-time work, and our continued efforts to negotiate fair contracts for partners at stores that have chosen union representation.”
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student Haya Odeh puts about as much credence into that statement as you do. “We’re just not going to let Starbucks slide with the injustices they pass on to workers,” she’s quoted in The Guardian. “Their union busting is just the very tip of the iceberg. Their labor practices and how they treat their workers, we want to push the message that we’re not going to stand for this as students.”
Georgetown University’s paper TheHoya reported on a panel discussion held on February 22, sponsored by Georgetown Students Against Starbucks (GSAS). “Panelist Meghin Martin, a former partner at Starbucks and member of SWU, said Starbucks has refused to engage in good faith bargaining, a type of negotiation in which both parties must sincerely resolve to reach a collective bargaining agreement.
‘Their whole game plan is running the union dry, wait as long as they possibly can, and hope that we either just give up, we run out of money.’”
Speaking of money, Starbucks has quite a lot of it. Those protesting its labor practices have gumption, dedication to the cause of the worker, and the desire to end corporate exploitation.
Time will declare the victor. For the moment, a cup of coffee would be terrific. A nice, home-brewed cup in a porcelain mug that can be used time and again...
The AMPTP and SAG-AFTRA have reached an interim agreement. Here’s what that means for TV and movies
Christmas has arrived early! The SAG-AFTRA strike is finally over after 118 days — making it the longest actor’s strike in history. After a summer spent picketing and pleading with studios, actors are back to work as of 12:01 am Thursday, November 9th. Here’s what that means for them, for us, and for film and TV in general.
When did the actor's strike end?
After two weeks of arduous negotiating, SAG-AFTRA voted unanimously to approve the new deal laid out by the studios. Details are emerging slowly about the exact terms of the deal but the headline is this: it’s looking good for actors, and great for movie-goers.
The SAG-AFTRA statement read:
“In a contract valued at over one billion dollars, we have achieved a deal of extraordinary scope that includes "above-pattern" minimum compensation increases, unprecedented provisions for consent and compensation that will protect members from the threat of AI, and for the first time establishes a streaming participation bonus. Our Pension & Health caps have been substantially raised, which will bring much-needed value to our plans. In addition, the deal includes numerous improvements for multiple categories including outsize compensation increases for background performers, and critical contract provisions protecting diverse communities.”
Items on the original list of grievances included: the use of AI, actors' compensation and residuals, healthcare and other union benefits, and more. We can assume that most of these were addressed in the deal. Like the WGA strike of the summer, which lasted 143 days, actors can hope to see some fundamental changes in the business — hopefully for the better.
A parade of press tours
One thing we’ve missed during the strike? Press tours. Martin Scorcese - coming off a recent wave of TikTok fame thanks to his daughter - carried out a heroic press tour of one for Killer of the Flower Moon and the few films that received waivers had to feed our thirst for magazine interviews and red carpets. The cast of Priscilla and The Iron Claw … we thank you for your service.
But now, everyone is back to work. After saying no to events, awards, and press junkets, actors have to get back in front of the cameras and beg us to go watch their movies — balance is restored.
Other films coming out soon might have to scramble to put together some sort of press. Titles we’re expecting by the end of the year include The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Trolls, Napoleon, Anyone But You, The Boys In The Boat, Saltburn, Eileen, Ferrari, The Color Purple, and more.
What movies and TV shows are filming now?
I’m sure many actors got calls summoning them back to the studio ASAP! Studios are prioritizing films with an original release date of early 2024, hoping to get them out in time. For example, It Ends With Us, the adaptation of the global Colleen Hoover hit is slated for February 2024. Can Blake Lively and Justin Baldoni pull it off? We’ll see.
Other high-priority films include a whole lotta sequels. Marvel Studios/Disney’s Deadpool 3 starring Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, directed by Shawn Levy was around half complete when the strike began. Paramount has been thinking about the Roman Empire as they anxiously await to finish Gladiator 2 over in Europe, while Warner Bros’ Tim Burton-directed Beetlejuice 2 just needs two days on set to wrap things up (allegedly). Clint Eastwood’s Juror No. 2 is another one hoping to wrap up soon with around a dozen days left. Then, there’s Sony’s Venom 3 for all the Spiderman/Tom Hardy lovers.
Needless to say, Hollywood’s gonna be busy.
What movies and TV shows will still be delayed?
Though the strike ending is great news for all, some films and TV shows have already been pushed back longer than we can take. Dune: Part Two won’t hit cinemas until March 2024, Zendaya’s Challengers with Mike Faist and Josh O'Connor won’t bless us until April 2026 and The White Lotus Season 3 won’t even be back until 2025. Other delays include Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Kraven the Hunter and the next Spider-Verse movie. Stranger Things has even said they’ll have to use technology to make the actors look younger in the final season, which we likely won’t see until 2027. Wake me up when that’s finally out.
“Obviously, we’d like to try to preserve a summer of films,” Bob Iger of Disney told CNBC earlier in the negotiation cycle. “The entire industry is focused on that. We don’t have much time to do that.”
Despite the delays, what SAG-AFTRA leaves us with is hope. The statement said: “We have arrived at a contract that will enable SAG-AFTRA members from every category to build sustainable careers. Many thousands of performers now and into the future will benefit from this work.”
Solidarity with all workers!
Close to 8 thousand writers recently signed a letter from The Authors Guild protesting the unauthorized use of their stories.
Technology is inescapably linked to the art and craft of writing. Humanity’s desire to share and preserve its thoughts, its pleasures, its discoveries, its knowledge, and its very survival led to hieroglyphics, the development of paper and ink, to the printing press, the typewriter, and the computer. Technology’s traditional aim was to make it faster and easier to create and disseminate the written word. Now it seems technology’s out to eliminate writers altogether.
Or, at the very least, the writers’ livelihoods.
NPR’s Chloe Veltman tells us that The Authors Guild – an organization founded in 1912 to “support working writers and their ability to earn a living from authorship” – is taking on “artificial intelligence companies like OpenAI and Meta” which use writers’ work “without permission or compensation.” As Veltman describes it, “text-based generative AI applications like GPT-4 and Bard...scrape the Web for authors' content without permission or compensation and then use it to produce fresh content in response to users' prompts”.
Approximately eight thousand writers, Veltman reports, have signed a Guild letter protesting such unauthorized use of their material. Some of the better-known scribes include Nora Roberts, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Michael Chabon, and Margaret Atwood.
The Authors Guild’s petition is not the only action being taken in the wake of AI. Other writers have filed class-action suits against AI companies, claiming their work is being pirated. AI is one of the main reasons for the Writers Guild of America’s strike (starting May 2nd), bringing American film and television production to a complete standstill. The New York Times summarizes the WGA’s position: “Writers are asking the studios for guardrails against being replaced by AI, having their work used to train AI or being hired to punch up AI-generated scripts at a fraction of their former pay rates.”
Award-winning writer/director Doug Burch describes the WGA strike as “vital to the future of those wanting basic living wages...It’s truly despicable when CEOs make $400 million a year and say that writers and actors are being unrealistic wanting to at least make a living wage.”
And just what is this average yearly salary? A forthcoming report from The Authors Guild asserts that the median income for a full-time writer was $23,000 in 2022. This after, a precipitous 42% decline in writers' incomes between 2009 and 2019.
History proves time and again that the haves never give anything to the have-nots without being forced to “share the wealth.” Whether it's coal mining, auto manufacturing, or movie-making, it’s taken the commitment of generations of die-hard activists to help address an economic imbalance.
The writers have one huge strength, something no boss or executive can do without – their talent, their craft, originality, passion, and their grit. As I understand it, AI can synthesize, imitate, mimic a writer’s work. The one thing it can’t do is create original thought and original material. Writers – with their unique perspectives and experiences, their individual and idiosyncratic use of language, and their ability to capture human behavior in all its grunge and glory – cannot be replaced.
Books, films, non-fiction, graphic novels, and poems are not merely material to be scraped, stolen, and exploited. They’re not “a data set to be ingested by an AI program”, they hold our past, our future, our quotidian lives, they teach us what it is to be human. This is a writer’s work.
The message is clear – Support the writers.