UPDATED with Actors’ Equity response: SAG-AFTRA and Actors’ Equity Association are locked in a jurisdictional dispute over the taping of live theatrical presentations. SAG-AFTRA has long held that jurisdiction, but says that it’s offered AEA a waiver to help out their fellow actors during the coronavirus shutdown of live theaters across the country. According to SAG-AFTRA, Actors’ Equity has rejected the terms of the waiver.
“SAG-AFTRA is looking to use a pandemic to claim jurisdiction in Equity workplaces now and into the future in a way they haven’t had before,” said Mary McColl, executive director of Actors’ Equity. “At a time when solidarity is required, SAG-AFTRA has chosen to disrupt the relationship between employers and actors that has existed for years, if not decades. Ultimately, the workers are the ones who are left behind.”
To back up their assertion of jurisdiction over tapings of live performances, Carteris and White noted that SAG-AFTRA “has for decades covered recorded or live broadcast presentations including Broadway shows (e.g., Hamilton, Diana, and Jesus Christ Superstar); televised special events (e.g., the annual Tony Awards and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade); morning shows (e.g., The Today Show and Live with Kelly & Ryan); late night shows (e.g., The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel Live!) and a host of other live theater productions and other live programs.”
Here is McColl’s message to Equity members:
Over the last few weeks, we heard from hundreds of you via email and membership meetings, frustrated about the status of remote work agreements. That number increased following Equity-League’s new rules around health insurance qualifications.
Here’s what you should know. Early on during the pandemic, Equity created temporary COVID-19 remote work agreements for your employers to employ you during this historic crisis. The weekly salaries for these remote work agreements are based on your employers’ existing collective bargaining agreements – which means they take into account employers’ many different-sized existing budgets. Those that can afford to pay more do.
From March through September, these agreements resulted in more than 3,400 work weeks, generating $2.5 million in earnings and more than $670,000 in contributions to your health fund. (All remote work agreements include health and pension contributions.)
When these remote work agreements were created, we explained to SAG-AFTRA that these agreements were temporary and only for existing Equity employers, but that they were important for keeping members and the industry afloat during this crisis.
Unfortunately, since then, members have told us about longtime Equity employers signing with SAG-AFTRA, often for performances taking place in a theater so it can be captured for future use. Members have told us they were offered contracts for as little as $125/day. Multiple stage mangers told us they have been excluded entirely, had their contracts revoked or been offered work as independent contractors and without workers’ compensation protections.
Staff and your elected leadership have had more than a dozen meetings with SAG-AFTRA over this matter. They have said they wanted to help. Ultimately, actions speak louder than words. Between our scheduled meetings with them, staff have been approving remote work safety plans for theaters only to have them suddenly sign with SAG-AFTRA. That is unfair to members like you who expected your Equity health and pension contributions, and who ended up with lower pay.
It is unclear why SAG-AFTRA continues to sign longtime Equity employers to contracts that do not meet Equity’s safety or wage standards. As a union, our job is to ensure that workers are protected with fair pay, benefits and a safe workplace. This is supposed to be a matter of solidarity throughout the labor movement.
A theatrical company working without an Equity stage manager and without the protection of Equity’s safety rules is inherently less safe, and this creates a more difficult environment for the entire company. Especially during a pandemic.
Ultimately, this problem impacts everyone, actors and stage managers alike. Our estimate is that around 60 productions this year have signed with SAG-AFTRA, amounting to $600,000 in lost earnings and $154,000 in lost contributions to the health fund.
fWe know that your employers want to keep engaged with their audiences, and we know that you want the ability to do remote work. Click here to take our survey and be the first to hear about a webinar to learn more and how you can help.
We will need your strength and your solidarity to ensure that everyone working in the theatre during this pandemic is properly protected.”
SAG-AFTRA fired back, calling McColl’s statement “blatantly untrue.”
“This is SAG-AFTRA’s historic and traditional jurisdiction and has been since 1933,” SAG-AFTRA said in a statement. “They know this, but are acting out of desperation. We covered Jesus Christ Superstar decades ago along with many, many other projects including Hamilton on Disney+ just this summer. We aren’t claiming anything new, because it is already SAG-AFTRA members’ work.
“It is unconscionable for Equity staff to accuse SAG-AFTRA of disrupting relationships and leaving workers behind when we are offering the very waiver Equity’s leadership asked us to grant them. They never would have requested a waiver if they did not clearly understand and recognize our jurisdiction in this area.
“We understand that these are desperate times for Equity’s leadership, but poaching SAG-AFTRA jurisdiction and attacking another labor union is not what we expected from a sister union that we have been trying to help – at their request.”
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