Hollywood Strike Funds Raise Millions From A-List Stars and Allies

As workers in Hollywood wait out the dual work stoppages that brought productions and many paychecks to a halt, they’re leaning on each other for more than emotional support at the picket lines. They’re helping each other pay the bills, too.

(Bloomberg) — As workers in Hollywood wait out the dual work stoppages that brought productions and many paychecks to a halt, they’re leaning on each other for more than emotional support at the picket lines. They’re helping each other pay the bills, too.

Longstanding sources of financial assistance, like the Entertainment Community Fund, have seen an uptick in both money donated and requests for help in the weeks since the Writers Guild of America and SAG-Aftra, the actors’ union, announced their respective work stoppages. Foundations connected to each have seen increased requests for support. And striking workers are also rallying around grassroots efforts on social media to gather and distribute funds to help workers pay for rent, food and other bills.  

The SAG-Aftra Foundation, a nonprofit that works independently from the union, is currently seeing around 400 emergency assistance applications per week, up from the 10 or 15 they fielded prior to the onset of the writers’ strike, according to Cyd Wilson, its executive director. While the group usually distributes around $500,000 in emergency grants per year, they’ve distributed more than $1 million in the past three months. Those funds are coming from donations, including some high-profile contributors like actor George Clooney.

“The fact that there’s even this much need for it, it’s a little heartbreaking,” said Joelle Garfinkel, a strike captain for the writers guild and the creator of the Green Envelope Grocery Aid fund, which so far has raised more than $113,000 for striking workers seeking assistance.

Garfinkel, who lives in Los Angeles and who herself received support from the writers guild’s strike fund, wanted to pay it forward after she received a check from a past show she’d worked on. Green Envelope, the name of her fund, is a reference to the checks that writers receive when earning money through the union.

An offer on X, formerly known as Twitter, to help another striker pay for groceries led to more people offering to pitch in. She’s since helped distribute over 1,100 grants at $100 each to workers who can show proof of past employment, such as through a film or TV show call sheet or their IMDB page. 

The crowdsourcing website GoFundMe estimates users have raised more than $250,000 on its platform for strikers and affected businesses, such as a costume shop and dry cleaner. A new group called the Union Solidarity Coalition held a benefit concert in July to raise money for industry employees who’ve lost health care coverage as result of the strikes.

Social media and digital payment platforms like Venmo and Cash App have made it easier for people to show solidarity by donating funds to each other, no matter how large or small. Garfinkel said the average donation to Green Envelope is $20. 

More than 100 days after the writers guild called its work stoppage on May 2, union leaders are reviewing a counterproposal provided last week by the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, the group that represents studios. The actors guild, which has some 160,000 members, has been on strike since July following the dissolution of contract negotiations over issues like compensation from streaming services and the use of artificial intelligence. 

The stand-off has resulted in an estimated loss of $3 billion in wages and economic output in California. That doesn’t reflect losses in Atlanta, New York and other filming hubs. Studios say they’ve saved money due to unspent production costs. And while many actors, writers and other Hollywood workers are used to being underpaid as well as fallow periods between gigs, many are turning to service jobs and other forms of work to get by. 

In Los Angeles, the work stoppage has ripple effects in other industries, such as catering and events that also tend to employ struggling actors and writers. 

“Most of our members that are coming to us have second and third incomes — they bartend and they Uber and they work as an actor when they can,” said Wilson, the SAG-Aftra Foundation director. “This is very reminiscent of what happened during Covid.”

Given the intermittent nature of entertainment employment, the industry has always had backstops. The Entertainment Community Fund, originally known as the Actors Fund, dates back to 1882 and an effort to help stage actors. The SAG-AFTRA Foundation and the writers guild’s strike funds have also long provided aid. Current offers on the writers guild’s website include no-interest or low-interest loans to members.

Workers putting together funds to help each other out dates back to guilds in medieval Europe, said Caroline Luce, a project director with the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California at Los Angeles. 

“You really can’t have a strike without some plan for mutual aid, some kind of strike fund, some kind of support to provide people,” Luce said. “When you’re asking people to withdraw their labor, that’s going to have a significant financial toll.”

Widespread efforts to help people make ends meet during furloughs and layoffs in the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, as well as crowd-sourced bail funds to support Black Lives Matter protesters that summer, contributed to a wider understanding of mutual aid. 

The Entertainment Community Fund has raised more than $7 million since May, including from marquee donors like Stacey Abrams, Shonda Rhimes and Seth MacFarlane. As of Aug. 10, it’s distributed more than $4 million. Workers are currently only able to receive one grant, which Chief Operating Officer Barbara Davis said is an effort to keep the fund running throughout the strike. 

“If this continues, we need to raise at least another $7 million to $10 million just to continue to help people as is,” she said.

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