SAG-AFTRA’s New Leaders Talking Tough About 2023 Film & TV Contract Negotiations: “We Mean Business!”

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Negotiations for a new SAG-AFTRA film and TV contract won’t get underway until 2023, but the union’s newly elected leaders already are vowing to take a tough stand at the bargaining table.

“I intend to build up the perception of SAG-AFTRA as one of power and strength to the envy of our industry peers and reservation of our employers,” SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher told members in the latest issue of the union’s magazine. “Only if we take a stand and commit to the things that matter, do we have influence both in D.C. and at the negotiating table.”

Drescher, who plans “to propose a PSA Pandemic Exit Strategy education program” in conjunction with the White House, said that greater bargaining power can be achieved by engaging star power and a united membership on a broad range of fronts, including environmental, legislative and technological, as well as closer, non-partisan, ties to the White House. To that end, she met last week with Vice President Kamala Harris while leading a delegation of SAG-AFTRA officials to Washington, D.C., where they met with Democratic leaders of the House and Senate to lobby in support of the Performing Artist Tax Parity Act and the American Music Fairness Act.


She noted that she has also “created a Green Council that will partner with NGO environmental groups and high-profile celebrity environmentalists. At long last, our industry will become part of the solution!”

“All of these efforts taken on behalf of the greater good strengthen our positioning when we walk into the negotiating room,” Drescher wrote. “We are relevant. We are stars. And we mean business!”

Joely Fisher, the union’s secretary-treasurer, wrote that increasing contributions to the ailing SAG-AFTRA Health Plan should be a primary goal of the next negotiations. She didn’t say whether that means raising the percentage that employers pay or raising the caps on how much they have to pay – or both. Fisher and Drescher were elected in September from opposing factions within the union.

“When President Drescher asked how I wanted to be most effective, I told her that my sitting on the 2023 TV/Theatrical Negotiating Committee will be vital,” Fisher wrote. “I’m excited to work with her and the team she assembles. As a member of that committee and in my role as secretary-treasurer, I will tirelessly maintain that we must raise the employer contributions to our health and pension plans. While difficult to explain in a sentence, we know that this negotiating point is the single greatest barrier we face to the lasting financial progress of our benefit plans.”

Back in January, trustees of the Health Plan — which has been running massive deficits in recent years due to underfunding and skyrocketing health care costs — raised eligibility requirements. That move, in turn, led to an age-discrimination lawsuit fronted by the late former SAG president Ed Asner that claimed that the changes fell hardest on the backs of seniors.

Telling members that “this is the first opportunity I’ve had to communicate with you since the election in September,” Fisher wrote: “As I said often throughout the campaign, I remain laser-focused on the crisis within our health care plan and am equally eager to begin evaluating the solvency of our pension plans.”

Wrote Ben Whitehair, who was elected executive vice president at SAG-AFTRA’s convention in October:

“We live in a world of producers and employers that would love to pay us less money for longer hours, do away with residuals, and halt any further contributions to our health and pension funds.”

“So, our mission – the mission of every activist, whether at the local level or those serving on our National Board led by our refreshed, new leadership team helmed by our visionary President Fran Drescher – is to fully prepare for the next battle by increasing our resources of people and money, and by anticipating every pushback. As mega-mergers have consolidated power in our industry into fewer and fewer hands, we must work as one voice, not only to protect what generations of activists have won, but to build on those successes and take on the formidable challenges of advances in streaming; exclusivity; rights of publicity; diversity, equity & inclusion, and workplace safety.

“I know from my work over the years leading the NextGen Performers Committee that people my age and younger have a hunger to get involved in the struggle for a decent life. They want to make a difference. We need to make it easy for them to do that — and I am going to do everything I can to make that happen. So, in my first message as executive vice president, I am calling on you – as members, activists and community leaders – to help us prepare for the coming clashes and negotiations that will chart the course of our union for years to come.”

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, who in June became SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director, wrote: “The gains we have achieved in the past, and which we will achieve despite future trials and tribulations, are the sole result of the collective power of our members standing together in unity. As a democracy, we must cherish debate and dissent about our path forward. Once the discussion is done, voices have been heard, and we have come to a decision, we must proceed in unity and speaking with one voice. It’s the only way we can deploy the power we need to ensure that we can accomplish our goals despite the opposition of mega-corporations and industry interests.”

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