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Former KNBC reporter Vikki Vargas criticizes SAG-AFTRA strike

"I was part of the 2 percent who voted against the strike," Vargas said.

"I was part of the 2 percent who voted against the strike," Vargas said.

A veteran KNBC-TV reporter is speaking out against a planned strike involving members of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists union (SAG-AFTRA), saying the strike could hurt working-class members more than highly-paid actors who can afford to dig in over the course of a prolonged strike.

On Thursday, retired KNBC (Channel 4) reporter Vikki Vargas affirmed she was among a small group of SAG-AFTRA members to vote against the strike, which started this week and comes amid a similar, weeks-long picket involving the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA).

The strike was authorized after a contract between SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) ended, with discussions between the two sides failing to result in a new agreement. AMPTP represents major film and television studios, including the Walt Disney Company, Apple, Comcast’s NBC Universal, Sony Pictures Television, Paramount Global, Fox Corporation and Amazon Studios.

The WGA strike already forced a number of scripted and unscripted series to stop production, including late night talk programs, variety and sketch shows, and a number of scripted series. The SAG-AFTRA strike has the potential to impact production on major motion pictures and the few television series that were still in production during the WGA strike, which started in early May.

Former KNBC-TV reporter Vikki Vargas appears at an event hosted by Reveille, Inc. in 2023. (Courtesy image)
Former KNBC-TV reporter Vikki Vargas appears at an event hosted by Reveille, Inc. in 2023. (Courtesy image)

Vargas worked as the Orange County Bureau Chief for over 40 years. She retired last December, but still has an active SAG-AFTRA membership, and affirmed on Thursday she was among those who felt a strike in today’s era could do more harm than good.

“While today’s announcement does not affect TV news, I am certain history will repeat itself,” Vargas wrote in a social media post published late Thursday afternoon.

Vargas reflected on a similar strike involving the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET) in the late 1980s, which impacted union production workers at KNBC.

“As reporters, we became labor puppets with the strings being pulled by both management and by the photographers union,” Vargas said. “I was accused of ‘touching’ a videotape deck — a union no-no — [and] I watched as my own cameraperson encouraged security at the courthouse not to let us in. We tried to attempt live shots without picket signs in the background, to no use.”

The strike in 1987 lasted more than four months before it came to a resolution. “And when it was all over, all the hard feelings were tough to bury,” Vargas wrote. “NABET was against the company hiring part-time workers; today, we have a gig economy.”

The NABET picket ended with the firing of one striking worker in Burbank, where KNBC is based, and around a dozen others in New York City, where the NBC network is headquartered. Another 200 jobs were cut less than a week after the strike ended.

“Digging in your heels only hurts those who can least afford it,” Vargas wrote. “It’s a lot easier to stand on the soapbox of a labor stoppage if you’re a marquee actor. I agree the landscape has changed, and it will continue to evolve with AI and who knows what yet to be invented technology, [but] a strike helps no one.”

The strike involving SAG-AFTRA largely revolves around income, including residuals, which performers say have not kept up with macroeconomic conditions, including inflation and a consumer shift from traditional television and movie theaters to streaming platforms.

Performers are also concerned with the rise in artificial intelligence tools, which they say could allow television and film studios to use their image and likeness without actually having to pay performance-based royalties.

“Employers make Wall Street and greed their priority, and they forget about the essential contributors that make the machine run,” comedian and actor Fran Drescher said at a press conference on Thursday. “It is disgusting. Shame on them. They stand on the wrong side of history.”

Officials with AMPTP said they were disappointed that they were unable to reach an agreement with SAG-AFTRA, and that performers chose to picket over continued talks.

“This is the union’s choice — not ours,” a spokesperson for AMPTP said in a statement on Thursday. “In doing so, it has dismissed our offer of historic pay and residual increases, substantially higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors’ digital likenesses, and more.”

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).