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SAG-AFTRA Rebellion: L.A. Chapter Rallies Against the Union’s Newest Contract

The Los Angeles chapter wants to go back to the negotiating table with studios due to concerns with syndication residuals and other changes.

Gabrielle Carteris SAG-AFTRA

National SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris is in favor of the new contract.

Michael Buckner/Variety/Shutterstock

Update: Unite for Strength and USAN, two SAG-AFTRA member groups in favor of the tentative contract, released the following statement following the LA chapter’s press conference.

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.

The two sides have set up opposing websites: dissentingopinion2020.com and 318millionmore.com.

Earlier: Leadership of SAG-AFTRA’s largest local chapter on Tuesday night voted to reject a tentative contract negotiated between the national union and studios. Now they’re urging members to vote against ratifying the contract.

The Los Angeles local — which makes up half of SAG-AFTRA’s total membership — wants national leadership to go back to the negotiating table, citing concerns over changes that include modifying the structure of syndication residuals.

The LA local says that change could reduce some members’ earnings by up to 90 percent. Local leaders say national officials have not been transparent about the details of the contract in their push to have members approve it.

LA local president Patricia Richardson (“Home Improvement”) said her chapter is taking an action that would ordinarily require a vote to strike. But because of the production stoppage forced by the pandemic, that isn’t necessary.

“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’ll be for much less money and far fewer protections than you deserve,” she said during a Wednesday news conference. “Together we must say with one voice that ‘You can’t roll back my pay, my pension, my protections, and more.’ The numbers and explanations that are being mailed to you (by the national union) … paint a rosy picture. It’s a facade.”

The tentative TV/theatrical contract was approved by the national SAG-AFTRA board on June 29 following negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the collective bargaining group that represents major studios, networks, and production companies.

The union calls the pact “the most lucrative deal” it has ever struck. It counts among its wins a 26 percent increase in streaming residuals and an increase in health plan contributions.

IndieWire has reached out to the national union for comment.

Now it’s up to eligible members to vote on whether to approve the contact. If it’s approved, it would govern the terms of their work for the next three years. The LA local’s vote to reject the contract is meant to encourage both its 70,000 members — and the members of the other locals, including New York — to vote no.

The local says the new contract changes the decades-old fixed residual formula for syndicated TV shows. Under the new formula, some 35,000 performers would see up to a 90 percent decrease in their residuals earnings.

“You’re not going to get that fixed residual for that show you did 15 years ago that’s now in syndication,” said David Jolliffe, the local’s second VP. “Instead of that hundred-dollar check, it’s going to be $10. It’s unacceptable to use, especially when it’s being used as a trade to get an increase in SVOD —Amazon, Netflix and the like — residuals. We don’t throw people out of the lifeboat, so we can pull others in.”

Other issues include what the local says is a lack of transparency around proposed health-benefits increases (most of it will come from performers’ wage increases), unequal nudity protections for background actors, elimination of some first-class travel benefits, and a lack of standard protections for new media productions under 20 minutes.

Concerns over the TV/theatrical contract in 2017 led just over 24 percent of members to vote no in 2017.

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