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The SAG-AFTRA National Board has approved a new agreement on exclusivity terms with the major studios, the union announced Saturday.
Over 95 percent of votes supported the deal, while a little over 4 percent opposed it, the union said. The overall “yes” vote means the terms will go into effect on contracts struck starting in 2023; union members do not have to vote to ratify the language. The decision arrives five days after the union reached a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which bargains on behalf of major entertainment companies, on the terms on Aug. 15 after about a month of negotiations.
“This negotiation reflects a healthier collaboration between SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP in the interdependent relationship we share. The AMPTP was motivated to come to the table and improve a contract that has hindered our members for years,” SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher said in a statement. “I want to thank the negotiating committee and our members for their participation and activism on this issue, especially the Series Regulars who came and testified, wrote op-eds, and stood with us in the room during the negotiation.”
The deal offers TV performers a period of at least three months (which the union is calling a “conflict-free window”) during each season of a show in which they can take certain kinds of work on another show or network “without first confirming availability and potential scheduling,” the union says. This window is not required when a TV show’s filming schedule has less than four months between seasons. Moreover, the deal raises the so-called “money break,” or the point after which actors and/or their agents need to negotiate freely with producers on their contracts. This new threshold is set at $65,000 per week or per episode for half-hour shows (increased from $15,000) and $70,000 per week or per episode for shows that are an hour or longer (from $20,000).
The deal also provides actors who are considered TV series regulars more options for additional work: They can take a second series-regular job and unlimited guest-star roles, including those that are recurring, as long as they do not last longer than six episodes. The union additionally says that it has established “a strict limitation on the permissible reasons for which a series producer may stop a series regular from accepting an appearance on another program,” but did not elaborate on what those permissible reasons are.
SAG-AFTRA has recently pushed hard politically to challenge exclusivity demands for TV actors who are considered series regulars. Prior to the deal, SAG-AFTRA had been lobbying on behalf of the Free Artists from Industry Restriction (FAIR) Act, introduced by California Assemblymember Ash Kalra. The bill, AB 2926, initially offered musical artists greater freedom to leave a “personal services” contract after seven years and also banned contracts that bar workers from working for multiple employers, which applied to actors. It has since been split up into two similar bills covering actors (AB 437) and another covering musical artists (AB 983).
According to SAG-AFTRA, AB 437 will be “withdrawn” as a result of the new exclusivity agreement.
In her statement, Drescher thanked a number of politicians who supported AB 437, dubbed the “Let Artists Work Act,” for helping to secure the deal. “Their support for the LAW Act helped us move forward on issues we hadn’t been able to get movement on in many, many years,” she said.
SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland added in a statement that “these crucial gains reflect the culmination of a long term strategy in which our negotiations with Netflix and the AMPTP lined up with the legislative work we’ve been pushing for over two years.”
The union also tackled exclusivity in the recent successor agreement to its 2019 Netflix contract. The tentative agreement — which the union’s National Board approved, but members have yet to ratify — heightens the agreement’s money break to $65,000 per half-hour episode and $70,000 per one-hour episode, from the previous $40,000 per episode threshold. Below the money break, the tentative agreement allows actors to take additional “second-position” regular roles on a series or lead roles on a miniseries, plus unlimited guest star appearances, among other changes.
In a recent SAG-AFTRA podcast episode, the union’s chief contracts officer Ray Rodriguez said that, when it came to the Netflix agreement, “the timing lined up perfectly for us to use the fact that we had that legislation pending as further leverage to get changes that we need in that area.” National executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland concurred, “The fact of the matter is, our legislative activities gave us the leverage that we needed to accomplish a lot of what was done in this negotiation about options and exclusivity.”
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