It has been an active summer of labor unrest, and the showdown in Hollywood may be large enough to throw off the August employment numbers, although the data will probably underestimate the total impact because of the way the industry is structured.
The film industry isn’t a huge employer directly. About 463,000 people work in motion pictures and sound recording, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; broadcasting and content providers account for another 351,000. But the industry is very important in Los Angeles, and creates local spending power that supports many other jobs.
The shutdown started when the 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America went on strike in May, halting productions that still required active screenwriter input; some others, with finished scripts, were disrupted by picket lines. In the second quarter alone, according to Los Angeles’ film office, activity was down 28.8 percent from a year earlier.
The freeze solidified when SAG-AFTRA, which represents more than 160,000 actors and broadcasters, went on strike in July after its contract with the largest film and television studios expired.
So what does that mean for the jobs numbers? Well, striking actors and writers don’t translate one for one into payrolls. They usually sign contracts, sometimes for a day or a week, rather than entering into a continuing employment relationship.
Also, it isn’t as if those 160,000 members of SAG-AFTRA were working in June and stopped working in July. Many of them work for television news stations and aren’t on strike. For those who do act in movies and TV shows, work is typically intermittent. Between gigs, they’re used to taking second jobs, waiting on tables or designing websites. During the strike, they’re also allowed to work in theater and podcasting, as well as on a handful of independent projects that have agreed to abide by the union’s demands.
Even with no work, most earn at least some money through residuals — although that income has shrunk with the rise of streaming.
“We’re used to being freelancers, and just being able to go along,” said Jodi Long, president of SAG-AFTRA’s Los Angeles local. “For now, what’s really going to affect the job market is the people on set — the hair and makeup people, the gaffers and the grips and the people in production.”
For all those complicated reasons, the Bureau of Labor Statistics determined that actors on strike would subtract only 16,000 jobs from payroll employment, not counting other workers who lose jobs as a result — though the impact, of course, is most likely wider.