justinebateman.jpgActor and Screen Actors Guild board member Justine Bateman writes about the AFTRA vs SAG battle in this piece entitled, “What’s Really Going on with SAG”:

“There are a lot of e-mails and post going back and forth about issues that aren’t important to SAG members right now.  They are distractions and “straw dogs”, as my friend David Latt calls them.  I wanted to tell you what’s going on with SAG.

“1. POACHING: AFTRA is a scumbag union which has been poaching SAG jobs for years. There’s no confusion about jurisdiction. SAG has work that is recorded, no matter the medium upon which it is recorded, for later play (sitcoms, dramas, films) and AFTRA has live shows (newscasts, talk shows, etc.) and those recorded in a “live manner” (awards shows, Saturday Night Live, and then variety shows and soap operas which used to be live). Pretty simple.

“They decided to widen their purview by going to producers who naturally would have called SAG for a contract and instead offering the producers a cheaper contract. Basically telling the producers they could get you, the actor, to work there for LESS money than they would earn under a SAG contract. Of course the producers, in order to save some money, have taken these AFTRA contracts. So, Dual-Card members, do you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth from AFTRA when you pay your dues? And guess how many news stations are NON-UNION? Don’t you think AFTRA ought to do their proper job and organize those stations? Those huge news cable channels? They haven’t because it’s harder to organize non-union work than it is to poach work that would have already been covered by another union.

“2. PHASE ONE: AFTRA has tried to merge with SAG about 16 times over the years. Each time the SAG membership has voted it down. For various and complex reasons, we haven’t wanted to take on their problems (natch). Years ago, though, some of the SAG leadership instituted Phase One in order to pave the way for a merger. Phase One means AFTRA is in the negotiating room with SAG with, hold on, 50% OF THE SAY. They do 0% of Film work and yet get 50% of the say on those contracts. They have on average 3 PrimeTime TV shows and yet they have 50% of the say on those contracts. Additionally, I am told by past members of  SAG negotiating committees that the AFTRA contingency consistently votes AGAINST what the SAG contingency wants in those negotiations with the AMPTP. Do you, as a working SAG member, LIKE THAT? That bothers me a hell of a lot more than whether or not some actor who doesn’t work very much has one vote when it comes to ratify the contract.

“3. SHARED OFFICES: Did you know that there are shared offices all over the country for SAG and AFTRA? Did you know that your dues are financially supporting AFTRA’s presence there? Does that piss you off?

“I want AFTRA out of our back yard. They have destroyed an actors chances of earning a proper living on Basic Cable with their crappy contracts. And now they threaten us by saying they’ll go into the AMPTP early and suggest they’ll try to offer really cheap contracts for Prime Time TV AND FILM? Seriously?

“I stopped paying dues to AFTRA (as I only got an AFTRA card to cover me for TALK SHOWS anyway) a few months ago and went on “Honorable Withdrawal”. I suggest all dual card members do this. You say you want to go on Honorable Withdrawal in a letter with your AFTRA number on it, sign it and fax it to them. Boom, no more money to support their attempt to destroy SAG by Wal-Marting us.

“I also think we should pull our shared offices and stop supporting them in this way as well.

“I also think we should tell our agents we will NOT do AFTRA work. We won’t even audition for AFTRA acting jobs. Let the producers get a proper SAG contract for the actors and we’ll be there to audition for that project. Aren’t you sick of your earned dollars being split between the two unions, sometimes disqualifying you for your SAG health insurance?

“The internet will soon be THE ONLY point of distribution. We must be fierce in our efforts to protect our work in this arena. The WGA were valiant in their strides for a better contract. They improved on the DGA contract. Now it’s our job to improve upon that.

“1. THE 17-DAY WINDOW:The 17-day (sometimes 24-day) exhibition window must go away. This is the corporations ability to play your work on-line for free, eliminating your ability to reap residual checks. There should be NO window. You play it, you pay it. Last I checked, the advertisers had to pay for EVERY airing, not just for those after the first 17 days. As far as Film goes, movies will be pulled off a large server on the internet soon (as they are already being done in one particular chain of theaters) and projected onto the screen. How would you like the contract language to be twisted so that if you have points on a film, they DO NOT make it applicable until AFTER the first two and a half weeks? Wow, that would be a lot of money to not have if you’ve got a hit film.

“2. THE BUDGET CEILINGS: Presently, the projects have to be over a certain dollar amount for the project to be required to be union. The exception is when you are employing a union member. This has the potential to create a HUGE non-union pool of actors. It does NOT give actors just starting out the opportunity to earn the protection of SAG membership through these “under the ceiling” jobs. We can’t allow that.

“OUR LEADERSHIP: We are in really good hands with Doug Allen, our National Executive DIrector, and Alan Rosenberg, our passionate President. SAG also has an excellent staff made up of intelligent people as well as a tireless negotiating committee. We need to continue to support these men and women and help them in anyway we can.

“Basically, we members of the Screen Actor’s Guild in 2008 have a big responsibility to be stewards of this union. It’s our turn. And I for one am not going to let some news broadcaster, radio show host, talk show union called AFTRA destroy my union. I’m also not going to allow a contract that eliminates the possibility to earn a living as an actor in the future by not getting the the New Media aspects of the our future contract as tight as possible.

“All the performers in SAG want the same thing; an incredibly strong contract so we can earn a proper living bringing entertainment to the world. Let’s make sure that anything that is in the way of that is dealt with.”