The usually fractious SAG-AFTRA national board of directors unanimously has approved a resolution reaffirming the union’s jurisdiction over the taping of live theater productions, accusing Actors’ Equity Association of taking part in a “surreptitious campaign to encroach upon SAG-AFTRA jurisdiction.” The board, meeting Thursday night in special session, also directed SAG-AFTRA counsel to conduct an investigation into Equity’s “activities seeking to poach SAG-AFTRA’s jurisdiction.”
The two unions have been locked in a bitter jurisdictional dispute over the taping of live theatrical presentations during the pandemic shutdown of legitimate theaters across the country. Equity has jurisdiction over actors and stage managers who work in live theater, but SAG-AFTRA long has claimed jurisdiction over those shows if they are being taped for broadcast. According to Equity, more than 240 stage productions that were taped for remote viewing during the pandemic have been performed under its contract, while 60-plus have been performed under SAG-AFTRA’s contracts.
The SAG-AFTRA board, while reaffirming the union’s historic and traditional jurisdiction in recording or broadcast of live theater productions, also approved a waiver that SAG-AFTRA has offered to Equity that would permit it during the pandemic “to cover recording and streaming of live theater productions by traditional AEA signatories, subject to reasonable limitations.”
Equity, however, has balked at the terms of the waiver, which would not allow taped theatrical presentations to be shown on any of the major streaming services but instead would allow for viewing only on restricted digital platforms that can be accessed only by ticketholders or subscribers of existing Equity bargaining partners.
In rejecting the proposed waiver, Equity accused SAG-AFTRA of “looking to use a pandemic to claim jurisdiction in Equity workplaces now and into the future in a way they haven’t had before.” Mary McColl, Equity’s executive director, said that “At 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.”
Equity president Kate Shindle has said that when Equity came to SAG-AFTRA this summer “for help and support, primarily so that we could continue working with our long-established bargaining partners during an unprecedented time in which every single brick-and-mortar Equity theater is shut down,” SAG-AFTRA sought instead “to leverage the pandemic in the interest of dramatically expanding its traditional jurisdiction at Equity’s expense.”
SAG-AFTRA’s national board, meanwhile, authorized an investigation into the more than 240 agreements that Equity has made for so-called “remote” viewing of plays that SAG-AFTRA claims “falls squarely within SAG-AFTRA’s jurisdiction, taking thousands of days of work from performers who should have been working under SAG-AFTRA contracts.”
Here is the complete text of the board’s resolution:
WHEREAS, SAG-AFTRA and its predecessor unions have held and exercised exclusive jurisdiction over recorded media and live broadcast media since its inception in the 1930s, and over streamed and digitally transmitted media since its inception; and
WHEREAS, Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) is the union that represents performers in live theater in the United States; and
WHEREAS, traditionally over many decades, when a live theater production is to be recorded for broadcast, or now streaming, SAG-AFTRA holds undisputed jurisdiction over that recording or broadcast; and
WHEREAS, during the COVID-19 pandemic, AEA has approached SAG-AFTRA seeking a waiver of SAG-AFTRA jurisdiction over the recording and/or streaming of live theater productions for the purpose of supporting AEA, its members, and its traditional employers; and
WHEREAS, SAG-AFTRA was and remains willing to grant such a waiver, provided AEA acknowledges SAG-AFTRA’s traditional jurisdiction, and certain other provisions designed to assure such a waiver is a replacement and substitute for live theater and not a disguised, permanent incursion into SAG-AFTRA’s traditional jurisdiction; and
WHEREAS, AEA has refused to accept the reasonable provisions of the proffered waiver, and instead of continuing the dialogue between the unions about the waiver chose to launch a public campaign of misdirection and misinformation; and
WHEREAS, it now appears that AEA has been engaged in a surreptitious campaign to encroach upon SAG-AFTRA jurisdiction, having established a “media committee” and having sought to quietly secure agreements for work that is clearly within the scope of SAG-AFTRA’s jurisdiction; and
WHEREAS, SAG-AFTRA desires for its members and others to be fully informed about the circumstances of this jurisdictional matter, and rejects the AEA campaign of misinformation on social media and push polling;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED:
1. SAG-AFTRA holds jurisdiction over recorded media and broadcast media (including streaming). This jurisdiction applies fully to recording or broadcast of live theater productions.
2. The National Board confirms SAG-AFTRA’s willingness to grant a waiver to AEA during the pandemic period, to permit AEA to cover recording and streaming of live theater productions by traditional AEA signatories, subject to reasonable limitations and an acknowledgement of jurisdiction, on terms consistent with those set forth in the waiver document that has been made available in draft form to AEA and the SAG-AFTRA membership.
3. The National Board directs SAG-AFTRA counsel to conduct an investigation of AEA’s activities seeking to poach SAG-AFTRA’s jurisdiction, with a particular emphasis on its “Media Committee” and the many agreements it has made for so-called “remote” work that falls squarely within SAG-AFTRA’s jurisdiction, taking thousands of days of work from performers who should have been working under SAG-AFTRA contracts.