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Dues for Middle-Class SAG Actors, Most Dual Cardholders Would Decrease in Merger (Analysis)

SAG AFTRA Logo - P 2012

The SAG-AFTRA dues structure favors SAG, and would cause AFTRA-only actors and singers to pay more, while broadcasters would see little change.

If SAG and AFTRA merge, a wide swath of SAG actors and dual cardholders amounting to roughly 45 percent or more of the guild’s membership will benefit from a dues reduction, while dues for AFTRA-only actors will increase, an analysis by The Hollywood Reporter has determined.

Another 50 percent of SAG members would see increases of at most $82.

See the graph at the end of this story.

The details:

SAG-only actors making from about $30,000 to $250,000 would enjoy decreases of as much as $468. At either end of that range, there’d be neither an increase nor a decrease.

Dual cardholders making from zero dollars to about $250,000 would see decreases as well, with the greatest decrease being $232. At $250,000, there’d be neither an increase nor a decrease.

SAG-only actors earning under $30,000 would see increases of up to $82. That would apply to roughly half the membership. A member making $10,000 – such as a SAG-only background actor working six days a month (at $142/day) – would see a $55 increase. A SAG-only actor who made $5,000 would see a $70 increase, while the roughly one-third of the union that makes no SAG acting income at all would see an $82 increase (except for those who are dual cardholders, who would see a $46 decrease).

AFTRA-only actors and recording artists would see increases. At $100,000 or less in earnings, the increase is at most $159. Thereafter, the increase rises sharply, reaching $6,048 at $500,000 in earnings.

All actors making above $250,000 would see increases, but the increases for AFTRA-only actors would be much higher than for SAG-only actors or dual cardholders. For instance, while AFTRA-only actors would see a $6,048 increase at $500,000 in earnings, SAG-only members at that level – who constitute less than 1% of the union – would see a $2,757 increase. Dual cardholders earning that amount would face a $1,982 increase.

Most broadcasters would see increases of up to $159. Anti-merger activists have highlighted the differences between what actors would pay in the merged union and what broadcasters would pay. There’s actually no difference in those rates up to $100,000 in earnings, but after that point, broadcasters’ dues increase more slowly, and top off earlier. The difference becomes pronounced at and above $250,000 in earnings.

About 95 percent of SAG members make less than $100,000, and all but around 1% make less than $250,000. So, in essence, the issue raised is whether the top 1 percent of the guild is being treated even-handedly under the new dues structure.

Broadcasters would be about four percent (4 percent) of the merged union, or  about 6,000 of the roughly 150,000 combined total. Because broadcasters work more consistently than most actors, most AFTRA broadcasters would pay higher dues that most SAG members under the new structure. For instance, a broadcaster earning $100,000 would pay over 5 times as much as a background performer making $10,000, or almost 6.5 times as much as someone making $5,000.

The one-time initiation fee for the new union would be $3,000, as compared with $2,277 for SAG, $1,600 for AFTRA and $3,877 for dual cardholders. Existing members of SAG or AFTRA would be grandfathered in, and would not have to pay an additional initiation fee. The existing reduced initiation fees in some smaller SAG branches and AFTRA locals would continue unless changed by the national board.

Three years after merger, the merged union’s initiation fee and base dues ($198) would increase by 2 percent annually, unless the union’s national board voted a lower increase, or none at all.

Notes

The dual cardholder analysis above is for someone whose income is split roughly equally between SAG and AFTRA. Dual cardholders whose earnings tilt significantly towards SAG would follow a pattern closer to the SAG-only pattern, whereas those whose earnings tilt significantly towards AFTRA would follow a pattern closer to the AFTRA pattern.

The demographic estimates – such as the estimate that about one-half of SAG consists of single cardholders who make under $30,000 – are based in part on 2007 figures supplied by SAG to the Los Angeles Times in 2008. The guild declined to supply updated data.

Appendix – Dues Structure

In each of three unions, dues are calculated as base dues (a fixed figure) plus working dues, which are a percentage of income earned from work under the union’s jurisdiction. The formulas are as follows:

SAG: Base dues $116. Working dues: 1.85 percent of earnings up to $200,000, plus 0.5 percent of earnings between $200,000- $500,000, plus 0.25 percent of earnings between $500,000-$1,000,000. No dues are assessed on earnings above $1,000,000.

AFTRA: Base dues $127.80. Working dues: 1.49% of earnings up to $100,000 (however, if earnings are under $2,000, then no working dues are assessed), plus 0.274 percent of earnings between $100,000 - $250,000. No dues are assessed on earnings above $250,000.

Proposed SAG-AFTRA (except most broadcasters): Base dues $198. Working dues: 1.575 percent of earnings up to $500,000. No dues would be assessed on earnings above $500,000.

Proposed SAG-AFTRA (for most broadcasters): Base dues $198. Working dues: 1.575 percent of earnings up to $100,000, plus 0.274 percent of earnings between $100,000-$250,000. No dues would be assessed on earnings above $250,000. Referred to as Single-Unit Dues Structure, because it applies to members who work only under single (national or local) unit or freelance broadcaster collective bargaining agreements.

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Email: jhandel@att.net

Twitter: @jhandel