How Fran Drescher became the voice of labor in America

In a 1994 episode of “The Nanny,” the titular babysitter played by Fran Drescher is pressured by her wealthy Broadway producer boss to cross a picket line where he throws a first party. She refuses, saying her mother taught her never to cross a picket line.

Nearly three decades later, Drescher – who created and starred on the show – is at the center of Hollywood’s biggest strike in more than half a century.

SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union led by Drescher, announced its strike on Thursday. He is joined by the Writers Guild of America, which has been picketing since May. Together, the two unions shut down Hollywood.

Why is Hollywood on strike?

SAG-AFTRA Union President Fran Drescher speaks alongside Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator, at the SAG-AFTRA offices after the end of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers in Los Angeles on July 13.

SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher with Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, National Executive Director and Chief Union Negotiator, after negotiations with the Alliance of Film and Television Producers concluded on July 13. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

The demands of the two unions center on residual payments from streaming services, data transparency and – most importantly – concerns about studios using artificial intelligence to replace human writers and actors.

While many of the faces of the strike are wealthy high-profile players, the union has more than 160,000 members, including those struggling to clear the $26,000 a year in revenue needed to qualify for health insurance, a key question Matt Damon brought up recently on the “Oppenheimer” red carpet. When the strike was called, Damon and his comrades left the film premiere in London before the film was shown.

“She brought us all together”

Fran Drescher as Fran Fine and Charles Shaughnessy as Maxwell Sheffield in the sitcom The Nanny.

Drescher and Charles Shaughnessy on the sitcom “The Nanny” in 1997. (CBS via Getty Images)

Drescher found himself in this position after narrowly beating actor Matthew Modine to win the presidency in 2021 despite a lack of work experience. “What I don’t know, I promise you I will learn very quickly, and what I know cannot be taught,” she said at the time.

Drescher was criticized last week for appearing in a selfie with Kim Kardashian at a fashion event in Italy, but she defended the move, saying she was there for work and was in touch with SAG-AFTRA staff throughout the trip. She received rave reviews for her Thursday speech announcing the strike, clips of which immediately went viral.

“Eventually people are breaking down the doors of Versailles,” Drescher said. “And then it’s over. We are at that moment right now.

Drescher has, in recent years, described herself as “anti-capitalist” and criticized “big business sociopaths, who pray to the gods of money.” And as the strike approached, she played a vital role in galvanizing the union, which voted almost unanimously to authorize the strike.

“It’s pretty amazing what Fran has done,” bargaining committee member actor Shaan Sharma told Variety. “She brought us all together.”

A summer of labor action

Meredith Stiehm, left, president of Writers Guild of America West, and Fran Drescher, president of SAG-AFTRA, take part in a rally of striking writers outside the Paramount Pictures studio May 8 in Los Angeles.

Meredith Stiehm, left, president of Writers Guild of America West, with Drescher at a rally outside the Paramount Pictures studio in Los Angeles on May 8. (Chris Pizzello/AP)

Writers and actors generate most of the headlines, but it’s a “hot labor summer” in a number of industries.

Thousands of hotel workers went on strike in California. And there’s the imminent potential of a Teamsters strike if the union can’t agree to a new deal with UPS by the July 31 deadline. Even a relatively brief strike by UPS workers could disrupt supply chains, delay deliveries and have a major economic impact.

Unions have become much more popular over the past decade, according to polls, and now enjoy broad public support. Drescher has always linked negotiations in Hollywood to the broader labor movement.

“The eyes of the workers are on us,” she said after the press conference.

“It’s very important that everyone understands that we’re not just standing up for ourselves, but we’re standing up for everyone, because it’s a slippery slope into a very dangerous time, and a real dystopia if the big corporations, corporations, think they can put human beings out of work and replace them with artificial intelligence. It’s dangerous, and it’s without thought or conscience or concern.

When will the strike end?

Fran Drescher and Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, center, with SAG-AFTRA members at a press conference announcing a July 13 SAG-AFTRA strike.

Drescher and Crabtree-Ireland with members of SAG-AFTRA at a July 13 press conference announcing the strike. (Chris Pizzello/AP)

There is no timetable for when the shutdown in Hollywood will end. Just before the cast went on strike, Deadline spoke to an unnamed studio exec who said studios and streamers plan to hold on until the writers give in.

“The endgame is to let things drag on until union members start losing their apartments and homes,” the executive said.

Disney CEO Bob Iger, meanwhile, called the union demands “disturbing” and said the cast and writers were “unrealistic”.

While the resolution of the strike will determine Drescher’s future as a labor leader, there is an interesting historical note: the last time actors and writers went on strike at the same time was in 1960, when the president of the Screen Actors Guild was Ronald Reagan.

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