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Actors Steve Buscemi, Christian Slater and others spoke at upbeat NYC SAG-AFTRA rally

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The SAG-AFTRA actors strike, which began earlier this month, received a boost of star power at a rally in New York's Times Square this morning. As NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas reports, speakers included actors Christian Slater, Christine Baranski, Wendell Pierce and Steve Buscemi.

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STEVE BUSCEMI: How do you do, fellow actors?

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: The spirited, upbeat event rallied support not just from SAG-AFTRA members but also from other unions, including the Teamsters and the Writers Guild, which has been on strike since May. The actors are asking for a greater share of streaming revenues, pay raises in line with inflation and fair pay and consent if actors' performances, voices or images are duplicated by AI. Some speakers, including Christian Slater, told very personal stories. Slater told the crowd he joined the union as a 5-year-old working actor, living with his single mother in subsidized housing near Times Square. He said that his father, also an actor, eventually lived off of his SAG and other union pensions for decades while struggling with mental illness.

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CHRISTIAN SLATER: I feel called to support actors like my father, who may not be household names but who deserve to live and die with dignity all the same.

TSIOULCAS: Slater said his father died last November after a short battle with cancer.

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SLATER: Since his death, it's become clear to me how integral union membership was to his dignity and survival. Living with mental illness harmed his ability to accept help, even medical care. A lot of people gave up on him, but his unions never did.

TSIOULCAS: Slater is now well-known, but like others who joined the rally, he was there to support the many actors in the 160,000-member union who don't receive the kind of paychecks he does. According to the union, 87% of its membership makes less than $26,000 a year from SAG-AFTRA jobs. Some speakers at the rally warned the crowd that the strike may continue for quite some time. It seems like the union may be readying itself for a long road ahead. SAG-AFTRA announced Monday it is receiving what it calls a historic seven-figure donation to its strike relief fund from actor Dwayne Johnson, known as The Rock. The exact amount of Johnson's gift was not disclosed. Many NPR staffers are SAG-AFTRA members. But broadcast journalists work under a different contract, and we are not on strike. Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS SONG, "UNDER THE BRIDGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.
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