UPDATED with statement from Unite for Strength and USAN: Patricia Richardson, president of the SAG-AFTRA Los Angeles Local, urged the guild’s members today to vote no on the union’s new film and TV contract. “The deal isn’t good enough, and now is the time to fix it,” she said during a Zoom press conference with other leaders of the opposition, which includes the local’s two vice presidents – Frances Fisher and David Jolliffe – and A. Martinez, co-chair of the local’s Ethnic Employment Opportunities Committee.
On Tuesday, the L.A. local’s board of directors voted overwhelmingly – along the guild’s fractious party lines – to oppose ratification of the tentative new agreement. The union’s national board, however, has voted overwhelmingly to approve the new pact and to recommend its ratification to the membership.
Richardson, noting the members of her local make up nearly half of the union’s entire membership and account for more than half of its dues revenue, said that a ‘no vote’ would not trigger a strike, but would “empower our negotiating team to go back to the table to get a better deal.”
“As we all sit waiting for the nightmare of this pandemic to abate,” she said, “we have the opportunity to take action. Action that in other times would require us to strike. But to be absolutely clear, the LA board doesn’t want that. I don’t want that. Nobody wants a strike. And most importantly, no one needs to strike in order to go back to the negotiating room and insist that some of our vital concerns be addressed. And voting to ratify this contract will in no way, shape or form get us back to work sooner. But it will ensure that when you do go back, it will be for much less money and far fewer protections than you deserve.”
In recent years, she said, “A pattern has developed with our negations. We’ve seen steady erosions in benefits. This year, we must say ‘Enough. Stop. We are worth more than you’re paying.’ Together, we must say with one voice, ‘You can’t roll back my pay; my pension; my protections.’”
She said that the details of the new pact that have been sent to the membership by the guild’s leadership “paint a rosy picture, but it’s a façade. Our colleagues in the leadership are propagating this notion that if we vote this contract down, we will be, in their words, causing a self-inflicted wound. Ratifying this deal would be a self-inflicted wound when we can so easily take advantage of this forced work stoppage, tragically caused by this quarantine. I want every voting member of this union to know that a ‘no vote’ on this contract will help them.”
She also accused the guild’s leadership of attempting “to make sure that members only hear information that supports the pro-contract point of view. This has prejudiced the election and unfairly suppressed our rights to communicate with our members with the same access and the same resources. Yet, while it may not be fair, we respect their leadership and we want to work together to go back in, to meet our producing partners on firmer ground.”
Jolliffe, the local’s 2nd vice president, detailed numerous areas of concern he has about the new agreement, including a “90% reduction” in the longstanding fixed residuals formula for shows that are rerun in syndication.
Supporters of the new agreement, led by SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris, point out that say that the loss of residuals from the floundering syndication market will be more than made up for by the 26% increase in residuals the guild negotiated in the booming streaming market. But Jolliffe said that such a trade-off is unacceptable. “We don’t throw some people out of the lifeboat so that we can pull others in.”
He also said that members need to know that 75% of the additional funding for the guild’s pension and health plans called for in the new contract “is coming directly out of their own wage increase. So it’s taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another.”
Supporters of the new pact point to gains made that will protect actors involved in simulated sex scenes, but Fisher, the local’s 1st vice president, said that the proposed protections don’t go nearly far enough, and are far below those afforded in Canada by its actors’ union. “The fact that negotiations even have to happen to ensure the safety of performers in their most vulnerable state is appalling,” she said. “We can do better than this.”
Martinez said that reducing syndication residuals during the pandemic shutdown “when making our insurance may become impossible to achieve for unprecedented numbers of us, surely makes this deal worth another look. We need to set a better bar for what we’ll earn in the future while simultaneously protecting the value of what we’ve done in the past. That is the wise and conservative play, in a moment that calls for wisdom and conservation. A more balanced deal, is a better deal. That’s why I’m voting no, to encourage and empower our team to go back and get that better deal done.”
Panel moderators Sean Astin, the son of former SAG president Patty Duke, and Joely Fisher, the daughter of former SAG secretary-treasurer Connie Stevens, said that they’ll both be voting against ratification. Balloting on the new contract ends July 22.
The union’s ruling parties, Unite for Strength and USAN, which are supporting Carteris and the guild’s leadership in urging a yes vote on the contract, accused the dissenters – who are leaders of the guild’s old-guard Membership First faction – of putting their own ambitions for a return to power ahead of the interests of the membership.
Here is their statement:
In a cynical move to advance their political ambitions rather than put the membership first as they claim they want to do, Membership First is actively trying to torpedo the richest deal in TV/Theatrical history during a global pandemic and collapsing economy. They’re holding $318 million in contract gains hostage to their own political ambitions. Who would do that?
The same people with a graveyard of contracts, who failed to negotiate a deal on this very contract in 2008. Because of David Jolliffe and his MF crew, SAG members worked for a year without a contract and lost hundreds of millions of dollars in ’08. Whenever Membership First has anything to do with a contract, SAG-AFTRA members lose.
Membership First knows full well that a no vote will put all of these gains at risk and push us towards a disastrous strike. This isn’t about getting a better deal; it’s about wreaking havoc on our union.
The future of SAG-AFTRA is at stake. $318 million dollars for members is at stake. $54 million for our Plans is at stake. Massive gains in streaming residuals and sexual harassment protections for members is at stake. Enough is enough.