The WGA wants to renegotiate its franchise agreement with the Association of Talent Agents that governs how agencies represent writers. The contract, known as the Artists’ Manager Basic Agreement, “has not been renegotiated for 42 years and is completely out of date,” WGA West leaders told their members in an email.
One of the key issues the guild wants to address is the “conflict of interest inherent in production and packaging,” in which agencies produce and package shows in which their clients are employed as writers.
Similar allegations of conflicts of interest led to a falling out between SAG and the ATA in 2002 when they couldn’t come to terms on a new franchise agreement. The main sticking point was that the big talent agencies wanted the right to invest in or be invested in by ad agencies, advertisers and independent producers. SAG viewed such financial interests as an irreconcilable conflict of interest, putting the actor in the position of being represented by an agency that could also be his or her employer.
When SAG members rejected a proposed deal, the two sides went their separate ways, and have yet to reconcile, though SAG-AFTRA still allows its members to be represented by ATA-represented agencies.
That same year, the same dispute over financial interest also drove a wedge between SAG and AFTRA, with AFTRA siding with the ATA by allowing its franchised agents to have limited financial interests in production companies.
The WGA West has scheduled three membership meetings to discuss its agreement with the ATA: on March 10, March 14 and March 20. The guild’s board of directors discussed the issues at two recent board meetings, and the WGA East discussed the matter at its meeting last December.
“The guild is considering renegotiating the contract to update its terms and ensure that agencies represent the interests of writers,” WGA West leaders said in the email to their members Friday evening.
Besides addressing agency “conflict of interest inherent in production and packaging,” the guild said that “members could benefit from new or revised provisions of the AMBA,” including:
* Requiring WGA scale plus 10% to charge commission.
* Requiring agency cooperation to submit all contracts and invoices so the guild can carry out effective MBA enforcement.
* Incentivizing increased agent advocacy for writers on TV/digital staffs, including fighting for title and compensation.
* Requiring agents to protect writers from free writing, one-step deals and sweepstakes pitching.
* Prohibiting referrals to jobs where underlying rights have not been secured.
The letter was signed by WGA West president David A. Goodman, vice president Marjorie David, secretary-treasurer Aaron Mendelsohn and all 16 members of the board of directors.
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Hmmm…when you have to push agents to protect their clients from doing FREE writing…you think theres at least a TEN PERCENT chance something is a bit Fishy?
Esai Morales is on a mission. He’s running for president of SAG-AFTRA, but more importantly, he says, he’s on a crusade to change the union’s culture. The union’s current leaders, he says, have put their own “petty partisan politics over the needs of the members, and that needs to change.”
Ric Reitz, President Of SAG-AFTRA Atlanta Local, Shared Secrets Of Hiring Actors On The Cheap
And now he’s threatening to file an election complaint against his main opponent – SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris – if those “petty politics” continue.
Carteris’ Unite For Strength slate has denigrated Morales’ long service to the guild, calling him “No Show Morales” because his busy work schedule prevented him from attending many local board meetings. “Leaders show up,” they said in a recent tweet.
“I find it distasteful that they impugn my service, using questionable and selective numbers and refusing to talk about the issues, like voter apathy and pension disparity,” he told Deadline in a freewheeling telephone interview from Budapest, where he’s filming the Ron Howard-directed miniseries Mars.
And now his slate is fighting back, putting Carteris on notice that they will file an election fraud complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor if she wins a local board seat in the upcoming election and gives it up so she can be replaced by one of her supporters, as she did two years ago. Ballots from members are due back August 24.
“Unite For Strength is challenging Esai’s attendance record,” Membership First said in a statement. “Both Esai and Gabrielle ran in 2015 for the Los Angeles local board. Both won seats. Esai went to as many board meetings as his work schedule would allow. Gabrielle, on the other hand, simply resigned her seat so that one of her political operatives could then take her place. Thus, Gabrielle never attended one single L.A. board meeting.”
They’re both running again for seats on the L.A. local board, and “If Esai wins his, he promises to keep his seat, and again attend as often as he can,” the statement continued. “If Gabrielle wins, we are putting her on notice. If she again gives away her seat, we will immediately file with the DOL an action that Gabrielle intentionally ran, all the while knowing she was going to resign her seat again to allow for another un-elected Unite For Strength person to sit in the L.A. local boardroom. This must be called what it is: election fraud.”
The union’s rules allow such replacements, but Membership First says it may challenge the legality of the rule.
“Solidarity is something you live, it’s not just something you claim,” Morales told Deadline, charging that Carteris and her slate, which controls the union’s local and national boards of directors, have mistaken uniformity for unity. “How can they be talking about solidarity when they spare no chance to attack us and waste our support when we give it to them, as they did when we voted to support their efforts in the negotiations?”
“We want the union to function as it was designed, to include the democratic involvement of its members and officers,” he said. “Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, we get no cooperation.”
The ongoing election coincided with the ratification of a new film and TV contract, which was recently approved overwhelmingly by the membership, although only 15% bothered to vote. During negotiations, Morales refrained from politicking so the union could present a united front to management, but was repaid, he said, with name-calling and misrepresentations of his guild service.
“Unite For Strength is desperate because they can’t fight us on the issues,” he said. “They don’t disprove our points, they just say it’s a lie.”
Morales opposed the new contract, arguing the negotiating team didn’t fight hard enough for bigger gains. And when it came time to poll the members, he and his supporters on the board asked to include a minority report to express their reservations. That, however, was shot down. “We tried to get a debate about having a minority report on the contract and Gabrielle ruled it out of order,” he said.
“We really want to come together,” he said. “We tried everything we could in the last two years to work with them. And even though they have the votes on the board, we offered unanimity going into the negotiations, but got nothing in return but obfuscation and mischaracterization.”
One of the biggest problems at the guild, he said, is the imbalance of power wielded by the staff, which is led by national executive director David White. This imbalance, he said, has made the guild less democratic and transparent. This can be seen most easily, he said, in the way staff pensions are calculated and the way the pensions of working actors are determined.
Pensions for the highest SAG earners are capped at $96,000 a year, even after working 40 years or more in the industry. But the highest earning staffers can retire on $210,000 a year after only 20 years of service – twice what superstars like Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep can get, even though they’re covered by the same pension plan as the staffers. A big part of the reason for this is that the accrual rate, on which pensions are calculated, is much higher for staff than for members. Morales wants that changed.
“We love the staff,” he said. “What we don’t want is a situation where people enrich themselves at the expense of the members.” Compounding the imbalance, he said, is the fact that four of the 18 union seats on the SAG Pension Plan are held by staffers, even though they’re vastly outnumbered by the union’s 160,000 members.
“We have only respect for our staff and the jobs they do,” Membership First said in a statement. “However, the secret disparity that exists between our pension and our staff’s pension is unacceptable.”
In 2004, when the staffers were moved into the SAG Pension Plan, the board was led to believe that staff benefits would be calculated the same as the members’. But when the plan lost nearly 25% of its assets as a result of the 2008 economic meltdown, the Plan’s trustees were forced to cut the pension accrual rate nearly in half – from 3.5% to 2%. “Except an exception was made to create an ‘Elite Group’ that would stay at 3.5%,” the statement says. “That “Elite Group” was our SAG staff. Since January 1, 2010, our SAG-AFTRA staff, who are paid with our dues money, still accrue at 3.5%, while we the members languish at 2%.”
Even better for staffers, when they reach 20 years of service and are 55 or older, they can take full retiree benefits, under what’s called “The Rule of 75,” which allows them to qualify for a pension in a completely different and better way than the members do.
Under this Rule of 75, the staff’s pension becomes 70% of the average of their last five years’ salary, regardless of their accrual rate. This also allows for something called “pension spiking,” which inflates their salary to include overtime and other wage compensation.
“The staff’s pension benefits far exceed those of ours, the members,” the statement says. “The staff’s annual pension cap is $210,000, verses our annual cap of $96,000 for SAG members — $108,000 for AFTRA members.”
Despite the merger of SAG and AFTRA in 2012, there are still two separate pension plans, and it’s almost impossible for performers to receive the maximum AFTRA pension. Today, the most that even the highest-paid performer can accrue under the AFTRA Plan is $2,000 a year, so if he or she works for 50 years, they’d only receive a pension of $100,000 a year.
And the Rule of 75 makes staffers eligible for full pension benefits at the age of 55, compared to SAG and AFTRA members, who can’t retire with full pensions until they reach the age of 65. SAG members take a 30% reduction of benefits at 55, while AFTRA members take a 60% reduction at age 55. And to receive a maximum pension, the SAG pensioner also has to vest 35 years, while staff can fully vest after only 20 years.
“This has nothing to do with attacking the staff,” Morales said. “We are attacking the innate unfairness. We can’t support that kind of inequity.”
All this may seem very deep in the weeds, but Morales says he and his Membership First platform aims to bring this kind of attention to detail and transparency to all things involving the members’ interests, including all future negotiations.
It’s official: Five candidates have thrown their hats into the ring in the race to become president of SAG AFTRA. Incumbent Gabrielle Carteris will face off against challengers Esai Morales, Peter Antico, Robert B. Martin Jr. and Marilyn Monrovia. Three other candidates are running for national secretary-treasurer: incumbent Jane Austin and challengers Jason George and Chuck Slavin. Read their candidate statements below.
Carteris, running on the Unite for Strength slate, said in her campaign statement that “The extraordinary privilege of serving as president is a journey I began nine years ago. After I was badly injured while filming, the union took care of me — and I pledged to give back through my service. Together we’ve accomplished so much: the historic unionization of Telemundo, working with California’s governor to pass the IMDb law, seeing our health plans merge, and now I’m focused on leading our TV/Theatrical negotiations. The work of SAG-AFTRA never stops but I bring passion to protecting our members every day. I would be deeply honored to continue fighting for you.”
Her statement, posted today on the union’s website, was written before the contract negotiations were completed. She’s now leading the effort to get the contract ratified by the guild’s members.
Morales, running on the Membership First slate, said in his statement: “Serving on the national board for 17 years has taught me well. I’ll lead our union to be transparent, inclusive and accountable. I’ll be a unifying force to preside over a divergent boardroom. Welcoming open and honest dialogue, we’ll gauge our union and chart our course. Will fight boldly and judiciously protect our standard of living including residuals, pension and health plans – especially our vulnerable members. Cross party lines to eliminate waste and inefficiency placing membership service above partisan politics. #peacefulwarrior with an artist’s heart and four decades of goodwill in this industry. Responsible proactive leadership.”
Antico, a former member of Membership First who’s running as an independent, said in his statement that he’s a 38-year member of SAG and AFTRA and that he “helped uncover the $756,000 misappropriation of funds found in SAG’s pension fund. SAG-AFTRA is run by actors who are not educated in corporate finance, nor governance. We must restore ethics and sound business practices to SAG-AFTRA, through education, transparency, love and forgiveness. We are all responsible, good or bad, for what has taken place in SAG-AFTRA to date. Join me in affecting a change that benefits the ideology of the highest good for all.”
Martin, running independently, said in his statement: “Our president requires extreme experience and expertise in executing SAG-AFTRA contracts, not only negotiating our contracts, from background to celebrities. A working knowledge of computer architecture, mass communication, acquisition, development, production, marketing, corporate concepts, SAG-AFTRA assets, operations, budgets, R&D, brand cost consultants, including an established respected reputation/ relationship with major studios, production companies, talent, producers, directors, writers, agents, managers, and the global creative community. It can be done, it will be done, with solidarity and your vote.”
Said Monrovia: “Serving SAG-AFTRA as an independent in a top leadership role during changing times, while working alongside the members, is my goal. I will carefully listen to your ideas. Your feedback is a gift. Thanks for the opportunity to represent. Please take a moment and vote, stats say only 12% of you do! Thanks for your consideration.”
In the race for national secretary-treasurer, Austin, running as Moreles’ running mate on the Membership First slate, said in her statement that “It’s been an honor serving you as secretary-treasurer. My approach is simple. Recognize the problems and fix them. As an experienced business woman I know how to run a productive, responsive and cost efficient union. Since my election, we have seen a surplus in the millions in our finances. We have returning departments for background, singers, dancers, stunts, voiceover and sound recordings. We have negotiated excellent contracts for our broadcasters. There’s more to do. We must find a solution for our split earnings between SAG and AFTRA’s pension plans to finally merge them.”
George, who as Carteris’ running mate, said in his statement: “Smart, successful organizations understand that increasing efficiencies and introducing automation improves customer experience. Our use of data and finances must track those of our hi-tech world. I’m thrilled that SAG-AFTRA will be incorporating direct depositing of residuals, saving millions in postage and labor, but we can and must go further. I’ll press for an option for automatic billing of union dues, electronic sign-outs on sets and sign-ins at auditions, which will also help us better track diversity and ageism in casting. Chair, National Diversity Committee; I’ve served for 15 years on the TV/Theatrical Negotiating Committee.”
Slavin, running as an independent, said in his statement: “We all have value! For your consideration: Being from the New England local, I know the vicissitudes you face as an actor/actress, in film and television, both as a principal and background performer, and as broadcaster and journalist, stunt performer, voice over artist and recording artist. I believe in our strength to come together with one voice collectively through diversity and selfless service. We are a labor union. We must continue to defend the work we do, and our assets. With your support we will continue to fight relentlessly to protect the value of, and for all members!”
A federal judge on Tuesday accused the California attorney general’s office of abusing its power in its ongoing legal battle with the Internet Movie Database.
IMDb has sued to invalidate a state law that would require the site to remove actors’ ages from their profile pages upon request. The site contends that the law — which is intended to combat age discrimination in the entertainment industry — is a straightforward violation of the First Amendment.
Judge Vince Chhabria has already granted an injunction to block the implementation of the law, known as A.B. 1687. The attorney general’s office subsequently filed a motion for discovery from IMDb. The state wanted to ask IMDb executives questions about how clients use the site, and sought a wide range of documents, including marketing materials, communications with third parties in the case, and records related to lobbying efforts against the law.
In his ruling on Tuesday, Chhabria said the requests were irrelevant to the case, which he said turns on legal analysis rather than any factual dispute. The judge also described the requests as a “disturbing” case of government harassment.
“The government seems to presume that, having failed to present any colorable argument or evidence in support of the notion that its speech restriction is actually necessary to combat age discrimination in the entertainment industry, it may now simply go fishing for a justification by imposing obligations on the party seeking to defend its First Amendment rights,” Chhabria wrote. “Restrict speech first and ask questions later, the government seems to say. This ignores the First Amendment’s heavy presumption against restricting speech of this kind. If there is no reasonable basis for believing a speech restriction is necessary, the government cannot impose one and then hope a justification materializes in discovery.”
The judge was especially blistering in his rebuke of the state’s effort to get information regarding IMDb’s lobbying efforts, and communications between IMDb and the parties that filed amicus briefs. Among the outside parties that have weighed in to defend IMBb are the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the First Amendment Lawyers Association.
Chhabria called those information requests “an outright abuse of power.”
“While that type of information could perhaps have relevance in some other context, it obviously has no relevance to the constitutional question presented in this case,” Chhabria wrote. “And the unsettling irony of seeking this information in a First Amendment case should be obvious.”
SAG-AFTRA sponsored the law, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law last year. SAG-AFTRA has intervened in the case to defend the law. The AARP has also weighed in to support the law, arguing that the existence of IMDb thwarts the state’s efforts to combat age discrimination by barring employers from inquiring about a job candidates’ age.
SAG and AFTRA are inching toward the bargaining table over a new basic film-TV contract with the AMPTP next year, even though the two performers unions are mired in ongoing disputes.
In a message Friday from exec director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth and prexy Roberta Reardon, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists announced it will start the formal process of seeking member input in February via the “wages and working conditions” meetings. The current pact — under which SAG generates about 90% of the earnings –expires June 30.
AFTRA noted in the message that it’s departing from the usual process of making a joint announcement with SAG about the W&W meetings due to what it asserted have been SAG’s steps to end the 26-year-old Phase One bargaining agreement under which the two unions jointly negotiate.
“Our responsibility to you and all AFTRA members requires that a schedule for formal W&W — that had been delayed while AFTRA waited to learn whether SAG wished to continue the Phase One Agreement as it existed — be commenced as soon as possible,” Hedgpeth and Reardon said.
SAG national exec director Doug Allen denied that the guild is planning to abandon joint bargaining and denied AFTRA’s accusation that SAG has been delaying the process.
“SAG remains committed to Phase One bargaining and has not made a decision to negotiate separately,” he said. “We began our negotiations preparation long ago and have conducted extensive research and member outreach on many issues, including new media. Our member-driven wages and working conditions process, by which our bargaining proposals are developed, will ramp up after the new year.”
The SAG-AFTRA negotiations process is being closely watched by the majors due to fears that thesps may strike this summer. SAG is more closely aligned with the Writers Guild of America than any other Hollywood union, and its members have been supportive of the writers throughout their seven-week strike.
For their part, AFTRA leaders made no mention of the WGA strike in their missive other than to note that it could impact AFTRA’s network code contract negotiations, which cover non-primetime TV work such as soaps, talkshows, variety shows and sports. Hedgpeth and Reardon said “net code” talks will start in mid-January; that contract’s expiration date was extended several months ago from Nov. 15 to Jan. 31.
he AFTRA leaders also said in the message that they were encouraged by last week’s announcement by the Directors Guild of America that it plans to schedule talks with the AMPTP early next year.
The SAG-AFTRA dispute stems from SAG’s move in July to institute “bloc voting” on its negotiating committee — meaning all votes by SAG reps on the panel would be counted as votes toward whatever their majority decided. SAG’s leaders opted for bloc voting after failing to persuade AFTRA to allocate more seats at the bargaining table to SAG, based on the notion that SAG members generate the lion’s share of performance work.
The “bloc voting” idea had been opposed not just by AFTRA but by SAG moderates out of concerns that those currently in power at SAG tend to espouse a more aggressive stance than those at AFTRA.
The performers unions also have been at odds over SAG’s accusation that AFTRA is poaching SAG’s turf on basic cable shows and shilling for producers by signing lowball deals. AFTRA responded by accusing SAG of trying to take over AFTRA.
In response to a question about the appearances of disunity between the two unions, Allen said, “It is our hope that we will bargain jointly with AFTRA in the coming year. We believe cooperation and collaboration among entertainment unions is good for their members and ours, but our priority will always be to do what is in the best interests of Screen Actors Guild.
And there we went: Way Back. Ah, Back being the operative word!!!