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SAG-AFTRA: Studios Seek To “Pad Corporate Profits & Fund Lavish Executive Compensation” As Threatened Actors Strike Looms

As SAG-AFTRA prepares to begin contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on June 7, it has laid the groundwork for some hard bargaining with the companies, telling members that “the AMPTP will often make proposals designed to cut costs at member expense in order to pad corporate profits and fund lavish executive compensation.”

The Writers Guild of America is now in the 21st day of its strike, and the Directors Guild of America began its contract talks with the AMPTP on May 10.

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Last week, SAG-AFTRA’s National Board voted unanimously to recommend that members authorize the board to call a strike after the current contract expires on June 30 if a fair deal can’t be reached. Strike authorization ballots must be returned no later than June 5.

“The time for change is now and we must be prepared to fight if management will not address our concerns,” the guild says on its frequently asked questions page.

Key issues in the talks, the union says, “include economic fairness, residuals, regulating the use of artificial intelligence and alleviating the burdens of the industry-wide shift to self-taping.”

  • Economic Fairness: Outdated contract terms, coupled with the evolution of the media business, including shorter season orders and longer hiatuses between seasons makes it increasingly difficult for our members to achieve and maintain a middle-class lifestyle working as a performer. In sharp contrast to the diminishing compensation paid to our members, the studios are posting immense profits with a bullish outlook as demonstrated by lavish corporate executive compensation. SAG-AFTRA is committed to ensuring our members are able to make a living performing in scripted dramatic live action entertainment. This means ensuring increased compensation when our members work, shoring up the funding of our Health, Retirement, and Pension Plans, and providing our members a meaningful share of the economic value created by their performances.

  • Residuals: Residuals supplement session payments and are an integral element of any performer’s compensation. While new business models mean that more and more SAG-AFTRA content is monetized around the globe, residuals payments are failing to reflect the economic value of this exhibition. SAG-AFTRA is committed to ensuring residual payments both reflect the economic value of our members’ contribution, and serve as a meaningful source of performer earnings.

  • AI: Technology has advanced at a rapid pace.  Artificial intelligence has already proven to be a real and immediate threat to the work of our members and can mimic members’ voices, likenesses and performances. We must get agreement around acceptable uses, bargain protections against misuse, and ensure consent and fair compensation for the use of your work to train AI systems and create new performances. In their public statements and policy work, the companies have not shown a desire to take our members’ basic rights to our own voices and likenesses seriously.

  • Self-Tapes: Self-taped auditions are unregulated and out of control: too many pages, too little time and unreasonable requirements have made self-taping auditions a massive, daily, uncompensated burden on the lives of performers.Reasonable rules and limitations, and access to other casting formats, are sorely needed to ensure fair access to work opportunities and protect performers against exploitation.

  • Many other important issues, including those specific to particular careers and categories, will be on the table as well.

Its FAQ page explains the reasoning behind the need to address each of those key issues, though the guild’s actual proposals — which have been approved by the national board — haven’t been made public.

Urging members to vote “yes” for strike authorization, which requires the approval of 75% of the voting members, the FAQ says: “With a YES vote in hand, the National Board will have the ability to declare a strike if bargaining fails to produce a deal our members will accept. A YES vote is a strong show of solidarity with your fellow working actors on the TV/Theatrical negotiating committee, giving them the backing they can leverage to reach a deal and fight for the contract we deserve.”

The page adds: “While 75% is the required threshold, we want as close to a 100% YES vote as possible. This shows management we are united in our resolve for a fair contract.”

The union notes, however, that “a strike authorization vote doesn’t guarantee a strike will occur; rather, it’s a tool we can use to help our negotiating team secure the best deal possible.”

A “no” vote, the FAQ says: “Tells management that they do not have to make a fair deal in order to keep our members working. Without the threat of a work stoppage, management has little incentive to change archaic contract provisions that advantage them and exploit our members.”

The upcoming negotiations, the FAQ says, “will determine whether our members working in film, television and streaming can continue earning a professional living doing the job they love. Compensation has been undercut by inflation and by a streaming ecosystem through which producers pay less residual income than traditional exhibition models.

“Unregulated use of artificial intelligence threatens the very voices and likenesses that form the basis of professional acting careers. The benefit plans that members rely upon for health care and a dignified retirement are under stress. And the shift to burdensome and unreasonably demanding self-taped auditions means that our members are working harder than ever, forced to take on audition costs that have always been the responsibility of casting and production. Without transformative change in the TV/Theatrical contracts, it will soon be unsustainable to pursue a career working under these conditions.”

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