With negotiations for a new set of SAG-AFTRA film and TV contracts set to begin May 5, the plight of the unions’ lowest-paid members is coming to light. Data obtained by Deadline shows that earnings for SAG’s film and TV extras have been in a steep decline during the past 10 years, leaving fewer and fewer of them eligible for SAG’s basic health plan. Data collected by the SAG Pension and Health Plans shows that during the past decade, the number of SAG members who have qualified for SAG health benefits based on their earnings from extra work alone has plummeted by more than 67%, down from 2,782 in 2003 to only 905 in 2011, the most recent year for which those numbers have been made available (see chart 1).
The numbers began their precipitous plunge in 2004, when the SAG Pension and Health Plans raised the earnings needed to qualify for basic health coverage from $7,500 a year to $11,000, an increase of nearly 50%. They plunged again in 2011 when the earnings requirement was raised to $14,800 – nearly double what it had been only eight years earlier. In 2004, the number of extras who qualified for SAG health benefits based on their earnings as extras alone fell by 33%, an indication that increases in eligibility hurts the lowest earners the most. The numbers slid again in 2005 then stabilized for the next two years. The slide resumed in 2008, when AFTRA started signing more TV producers to its contract, touching off a bitter feud that only ended when the two unions merged in 2010. (more…)