“I’m going to tell you a story about the oldest profession… storytelling. What else could you have thought?” said Elliot Bales, a member of SAG-AFTRA as he opened his remarks. One would think a rally in support of striking workers might start with a sad or more militant tone, but not when the striking workers are also some of the most creative and expressive workers in our society. The SAG-AFTRA Washington Mid-Atlantic local hosted a rally at the office of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) local 487 in Baltimore. Local labor leaders and supporters from across the city came out to stand in solidarity and show their support.
Metro Baltimore Council AFL-CIO President Courtney Jenkins addressed the crowd and praised the work of SAG-AFTRA members for keeping the public engaged and entertained during the uncertain and tumultuous early period of the Covid-19 pandemic. While praising one of his favorite shows, he referenced one episode that resonated deeply with the striking SAG-AFTRA workers in the room. One Netflix program – Netflix is a part of the Association of Motion Pictures and Television Producers (AMPTP) that SAG-AFTRA is currently bargaining with – features artificial intelligence owning, using, and retaining a person’s image and likeness in perpetuity. There were audible groans when Jenkins brought this up, but it served his larger point of the intersection of art and life. Jenkins was pleased to see AFT-Maryland in attendance mentioning “it was a beautiful thing to see. We’re in the summer of solidarity and what we saw is solidarity in action.”
AFT-Maryland Community Engagement Director Jeffery Johnson viewed the rally as a notice to the AMPTP and management in every sector where working people are organized. “They need to know that if they try to get over on one union, you’re going to have a problem with all of us. We stand together, whether it is our actors and writers now, or had it been our UPS drivers, labor has the back of workers, and we will always show up to stand in solidarity with working people when working people are fighting for their rights.”
Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen addressed the rallying group reminding those that may have traveled from outside the city that Baltimore is a union town. Cohen acknowledged how the perception of a working actor is different from the real people who are working actors, some of whom, he noted, live in his district. Cohen shared how his enthusiasm for the arts leads to his solidarity with SAG-AFTRA: “I’m a huge movie buff, I’m a theater buff, so for me standing in solidarity with workers, and with actors, and with the people who produce the art that we consume is so critically important.”