As Hollywood strikes continue, unions call out excessive CEO pay: ‘We need to look at what they’re doing with executive compensation’

“We really think it’s important that when companies tell us they can’t afford it or it doesn’t work for their business model that we need to look at what they’re doing with executive compensation and actually call them out for the inconsistency and hypocrisy that that reflects.”

— Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA

As striking Hollywood writers and actors ask for higher wages and assurances around the use of artificial intelligence, one of their leaders on Thursday joined the AFL-CIO in unveiling the union alliance’s annual report on executive pay.

SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said during a virtual news conference highlighting Paywatch, this year’s report and website from the AFL-CIO, that the issue of excessive compensation among media and entertainment executives “has really come to the forefront especially when you have CEOs who are telling us it’s ‘unrealistic’ to demand things like minimum-wage increases that account for inflation when you could see… they’re not worried about the impact of inflation… for themselves.”

He was referring to recent comments by Disney

CEO Bob Iger, who recently said during a television interview about the Hollywood strikes that “there’s a level of expectation that [writers and actors] have that is just not realistic.”

See: SAG president Fran Drescher hits back at Disney CEO Bob Iger’s strike comments

This year’s AFL-CIO report, which is based on companies’ publicly reported executive compensation for 2022, shows that chief executives of S&P 500 companies received an average $16.7 million in total compensation last year. The average pay of the CEOs of the entertainment companies that are members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers was higher: $35 million, according to Brandon Rees, the AFL-CIO’s deputy director of Corporations and Capital Markets, during the news conference.

Meanwhile, the average hourly pay for an actor in the U.S. was $36.06 in May 2022, according to the most recent government data.

From our archives (April 2022): Why do bosses like the ‘Pity City’ CEO seem so out of touch? The growing CEO-to-worker pay gap may offer a clue.

The Paywatch report also highlighted the overall CEO-to-worker pay ratio last year, which was 272-to-1.

“We think it’s particularly important to be aware of the role of CEO pay in economic inequality as these CEOs are rushing to implement artificial intelligence in their business models,” Rees said. “And the question is: Are we going to use artificial intelligence to raise working people’s living standards and make working people more productive by giving them a voice in how artificial intelligence is used in the workplace?”

Hollywood writers and actors have mentioned their concerns about the effects of AI on their work, and the AFL-CIO stressed Thursday that that concern cuts across most industries.

“Performers are being asked to sign away the rights to their own likeness as a condition of employment so that the studios can add to their profits by digitally creating new content without them,” said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond at the news conference. “Writers not writing. Actors not acting. And their fight is our fight.”

For their part, the studios and streaming services represented by AMPTP have said that their AI proposal “protects performers’ digital likenesses, including a requirement for performer’s consent for the creation and use of digital replicas or for digital alterations of a performance.” In the case of writers, the AMPTP has said it is committed to discussing AI issues with the Writers Guild of America.

See: Netflix criticized for posting AI jobs paying up to $900,000 while writers and actors are on strike

Also: Actors, writers, hotel housekeepers and grad-student workers are all striking for the same reason

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