SAG-AFTRA Factions Weigh In On Pros & Cons Of Proposed New Film & TV Contract

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Ratification ballots are in the mail for the new SAG-AFTRA contract, with pro and con statements from opponents and proponents. Opponents have issued a minority report urging members to vote no, saying that the deal “enshrines historic losses and missed opportunities.” Proponents, saying that this is the best deal in the union’s history, are urging a “yes” vote. The union will be holding a series of virtual information meetings later this month.

On Monday, voting along the guild’s fractious party lines, nearly one-third of the national board of directors voted to reject the contract. And although they fell short of achieving the threshold required to trigger the board’s consideration of a minority report, the guild included their dissenting opinion in the ratification package that’s now been sent to members.

Their dissent stands in sharp contrast to statements made by supporters of ratification. Earlier today, SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris released a video in which she said the new contract “is the most lucrative deal we have ever negotiated.” Watch it here.

In their rebuttal to minority report, supporters of the new pact say “this is the richest deal in TV/Theatrical history, negotiated while our employers watched their businesses grind to a halt. The opposition believes that you should celebrate this victory with a self-inflicted wound. They urge you to reject these gains and jeopardize the return of our work precisely when that mistake will do the most damage to members who are already in financial crisis. The only alternative they offer is to not have a deal. If this non-strategy sounds familiar, it should. This is how the authors of the opposition statement lost hundreds of millions in member wages in 2008.”

Read the full ratification package, with pro and con statement, here.

Most notably, opponents of the contract argue that it includes rollbacks in the fixed formula for residuals from the floundering syndication market, saying that will cost actors $70 million over the next three years and $170 million over the next eight years. They say the new contract “destroys our decades-old fixed residual formula” and will result in up to a 90% reduction in these residuals.

Read their opposition statement here.

In their rebuttal, however, supporters say that the 17 shows currently in syndication will continue in syndication under their current formulas, and that the new formula “provides an opportunity for new residuals, for shows that would never have syndicated.” They say “the continuing decline of a business model based on local stations broadcasting linear, appointment television is inevitable. Streaming is the future. That’s what this deal secures.”

The guild has also produced a video (watch it below) saying that a new residuals formula was needed to account for the fact that “The broadcast syndication market is in a natural and almost certainly irreversible decline,” with research showing a projected 50% decline in broadcast syndication over the next five years, which the guild says translates into a potential decline in broadcast residuals from $95.8 million this year to only $43 million by 2025.

The union says that gains in the new pact are valued at $318 million over the next three years, including a 26% increase in residuals from original shows made for high-budget streaming platforms; $54 million in additional funding for the union’s health plan, and some 2,100 additional jobs a year for West Coast background performers beginning in the third year of the contract. SAG-AFTRA national executive director David White, the union’s chief negotiator, has said that the new agreement “represents significant and much needed monies to our pension, health and retirement plans, and compensation gains designed to protect the current and next generation of our membership, particularly in the area of high-budget subscription streaming residuals.”

Dissenters from the union’s loyal opposition, who opposed Carteris’ re-election last year, say that the new deal doesn’t go nearly far enough. “This deal was negotiated during an unprecedented global health and economic crisis,” they said. “Our country has turned to performers for warmth, humor, and inspiration. The value of our services is growing, not shrinking. Even through the shared pain of this moment, it’s our duty to negotiate with strength to fiercely protect your wages, residuals, health, safety, and the survival of our Pension and Health Plans.”

Dissenters include former SAG president Ed Asner, current Los Angeles Local president Patricia Richardson, and national board member Matthew Modine, who lost in his bid last year to unseat SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carters. Other signers of the minority report include national board members Elliott Gould, Neve Campbell, Dianne Ladd, Esai Morales (who lost to Carteris in 2017), Jennifer Beals, Joanna Cassidy, and Rob Schneider, as well as Los Angeles local vice presidents Frances Fisher and David Jolliffe. Other board members who signed include Joe d’Angerio, Debbie Evans, Greg Evigan, Marie Fink, Lamonte Goode, Jodi Long, Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Olga Wilhelmine. LA Local board signers include Peter Antico (who also lost to Carteris in 2017), Pamela Guest, Linda Harcharic, Matt Kavanaugh, Ron Ostrow, and Shaan Sharma.

Dissenters will hold a virtual town hall meeting on July 9 to discuss their objections to the proposed new contract. These are the key concerns as detailed in their minority report:

• Destroys our decades-old fixed residual formula.
• Up to 90% reduction.
•  Total 3-year loss of $70 million.
•  8-year loss of $170 million.
•  2019 earnings of $95 million will plummet to $16 million.
•  Affects 35,000 individual performers.
• Pre 1998 episodes will have your P&H contribution deducted from your residual.

Pension & Health
• 1.5% of the proposed 2% P&H increase will be deducted from your wage increase.
• Members working under an AFTRA contract receive zero individual pension increases, bypassing them, going straight to the AFTRA Retirement Plan.

Advanced Payment of Residuals
• The Netflix deal achieved a 15% cap, while studios can continue to apply a significantly higher percentage.

Background Performers:
• Of the promoted $318 million increase, the 1 new Background spot in the 2nd year is worth only .2% ($600,000).
• In the last 28 years, BG has lost a total of 36 spots. 1 new spot isn’t enough.
• Scanning: No protection for background actors from the use of digital doubles.
• Unequal nudity protections.

Foreign Travel
• Giving away First-Class Travel under 1,000 miles, especially in the COVID era, puts our members at risk.

Grandfathering in SVOD
• New episodes of old shows are prevented from receiving newly increased negotiated residuals.
• The supposed elimination of “grandfathering” in this agreement is extremely vague.

• Money/Schedule Breaks ignored for features, robbing cumulative overtime.
• No safety improvements.

New Media under 20 minutes
• New Media shows under 20 minutes will continue to be freely negotiated and will not have most of our standard protections.
• No minimums
• No 12-hour turnaround
• Half-hour shows are typically 22 minutes. Cutting just 2 minutes will side-step the basic agreement.

Options & Exclusivity
• The freedom of performers to pursue future work remains terribly restricting.
• Guest spots are unfairly limited.
• Actors are put on unreasonable holds.

Supporters of the deal took issue with each of the opponents’ concerns. In their rebuttal, they said:

High-Budget SVOD:
• The opposition makes literally no mention of the most impactful issue facing our members.
• The high-budget SVOD gains (26% – 45% increase) will exceed syndication losses within 2-3 years and dramatically surpass them ever after. That’s called a good deal.
• The supposedly “vague” Grandfathering provisions are crystal clear, and a huge improvement over how this worked in 2014 and 2017.

• The 17 shows currently in syndication continue in syndication under their current formulas. The new formula provides an opportunity for new residuals, for shows that would never have syndicated.
• The continuing decline of a business model based on local stations broadcasting linear, appointment television is inevitable. Streaming is the future. That’s what this deal secures.
• Above-pattern improvement prohibiting advance pay for new contracts means you get actual money for your residuals, not a credit against a prepayment bargained into your contract.

Air Travel:
• Coach for under 1,000-mile domestic flights is already allowed. • Given the choice between rejecting this pattern proposal and putting record-setting sums of money in members’ pockets at a time of unprecedented need, we think we made the right call.
• We improved the pattern here too by securing you free access to first-class lounges and priority boarding for coach flights outside of North America.

• Achieved our proposal to make an overtime improvement in episodic — that’s a gain.
• Feature gain is better pursued in a negotiation that isn’t happening while movie theaters are closed.
• Stunt community’s #1 priority in Wages & Working conditions was funding our (benefit) Plans. We did that.

Background Actors:
• Background actors get 2,100 new jobs from a new covered position.
• Union has addressed scanning/digital doubles successfully with studios outside of negotiations, and this deal sets industry-wide discussion.
• New and crucial nudity/simulated sex protection for background. Same as principals in all but two areas — auditions and notice — one of which is addressed in a different way.

Advance Pay, Options & Exclusivity, and New Media Below 20 Minutes:
• The union has creative ways to address these areas outside of bargaining.
• These issues remain on our agenda for future negotiations — don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the great.

Supporters urged members to “Vote yes for our future!” Opponents urged members to “Arm yourself with facts” and “Make an educated decision.”

Here is today’s video from SAG-AFTRA:

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