David White, SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director, met Tuesday night with some 80 stunt performers to hear their concerns about safety, pensions and contract issues. Stuntwoman Jane Austin, who’s the union’s national secretary-treasurer and president of its Los Angeles local, also attended the meeting, which was held at the offices of Stunts Unlimited in Chatsworth, CA.
Safety is the chief concern of all stunt professionals – an issue that was highlighted when two stunt performers were killed on the job last year: Joi Harris on Deadpool 2 in Vancouver and John Bernecker on The Walking Dead in Atlanta.
One of the safety issues on last night’s agenda was a proposal that SAG-AFTRA should demand in the next round of contract talks that ambulances be required on set when major stunts are performed, and that emergency medical technicians should be required on set for all stunts, according to an agenda prepared for the meeting by stunt coordinator Peter Antico, a local board member who ran unsuccessfully for SAG-AFTRA president in 2017.
Stunt performers routinely put their lives in the hands of stunt coordinators, but not all are as safety-conscious as others. “The most important quality a coordinator must possess is the backbone to say no when there is an unsafe practice being pushed by management,” the meeting’s agenda states.
On the economic front, the stunt performers told White that in the next round of bargaining, they want to see the elimination of flat-fee TV deals for stunt coordinators, which deprives them of residuals. They also want to eliminate the money break for stunt performers. “Stunt performers should not be penalized for performing big stunts with large adjustments by having their overtime eliminated when their earnings exceed the money break,” according to the agenda.
Stunt players also want SAG-AFTRA to put an end to the pooling of residuals on films shot outside the country, where “foreign performers who do not work under the SAG-AFTRA contract are diluting the monies paid to SAG AFTRA members illegally,” the agenda states. “The producers pocket all foreign performers’ share of those residuals as they are not paid to any foreign performers. This is theft.” This practice, the agenda notes, not only diminishes wages owed to performers but also reduces dues payments to the union and contributions to its pension and health plans.
Stunt performers also want retroactive full retirement for stunt people at age 55, due to the physical pounding they take during the course of their careers. “Pension contributions need to be increased across the board to accommodate for its current underfunded state and to allow stunt performers’ retirement at age 55 with 30-35 years vested,” the agenda states.
They also want to see “seasoned senior-level stunt coordinators hired to work at SAG-AFTRA in the Stunt and Safety department to oversee safety and investigate accidents on set.”
Antico, who was one of the organizers of the meeting, praised White for taking part. “He came by himself, into the fire, and spoke very candidly and ethically,” Antico said. “I couldn’t have been more pleased with his integrity and the stunt group’s integrity. Bravo to everyone.”
Antico also commended SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris, who defeated him in the last election, “for taking a real interest in the business of and safety of stunt performers.”
Antico set up the meeting with veteran stunt coordinator Jack Gill. Other organizers of the agenda included stunt performers and coordinators Gregg Smrz, Andy Armstrong, Debbie Evans and Marie Fink. Fink, a member of the union’s LA board, has started a petition – addressed to White and signed by more than 3,600 people – calling for changes in in the guild’s stunt department.
“After much discussion within the stunt community,” the petition states, “we have come to the decision that anyone you hire to serve as SAG-AFTRA’s Head of the Stunt and Safety Department needs a minimum of 300 days on set, working on at least 30 different shows under union stunt contracts. There are many reasons we reached this conclusion, but at the end of the day, it is a matter of safety, not just for stunt people, but for the cast and crew who depend on SAG-AFTRA and stunt coordinators to keep them safe during filming.”