Amid a notable rift between competing factions within the union, SAG-AFTRA members ratified its new three-year TV/theatrical deal with producers as voting ended on July 22.
In a vote of 74.22 percent in favor to 25.78 percent opposed, the performers’ union approved the agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The turnout for the vote, which was significantly higher than in the 2017 national vote, was 27 percent of an estimated 160,000 members that are represented by the union.
The deal, which the union values at $318 million over three years and covers theatrical features as well as scripted TV content on linear and streaming platforms, runs through June 30, 2023. It’s the most lucrative deal in SAG and SAG-AFTRA history and the union has also touted a 26 percent increase in streaming residuals over the next three years. Opponents point out that the gains were obtained at the cost of reducing broadcast syndication residuals, although the streaming gains are much larger than the foregone syndication revenue.
Despite the contentious debate surrounding the latest deal, the vote totals were similar to the last TV/theatrical deal ratified. In a 2017 national vote, SAG-AFTRA members ratified the the contracts by 75.79 percent to 24.21 percent, with a turnout of 15.33 percent. In 2014, that vote total was 92.12 percent to 7.88 percent.
The results show the schism between the union parties Unite for Strength — led by SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris, who was reelected by a plurality of union members in 2019 — and Membership First, which won control of the Los Angeles local board last year. Next year’s contests are also likely to be contentious.
Calls to vote against the deal were backed by the union’s Los Angeles local president Patricia Richardson, a member of Membership First. “We must not allow the era of Covid-19 to undermine our true value,” Richardson wrote in a letter on Dissenting Opinion, a website asking union members to vote against the agreement.
Other voices, including Eva Longoria, Vincent D’Onofrio, Sean Astin, Brandon Routh and Matthew Modine — the last of whom represented Membership First in a bid against Carteris for national president last year — publicly stated their intention to vote no on the deal. On July 8, the Los Angeles local board, controlled by MF, voted against the new deal by a margin of 69 percent to 31 percent in a symbolic but non-binding move against the agreement. In contrast, the national board, dominated by UFS and its New York based partner USAN, had approved the deal by 67.61 percent to 32.39.
The Time’s Up Foundation, which advocates for safety and equity in industry workplaces, also asked SAG-AFTRA members to vote no on the deal in an unusual if not unprecedented intervention in a union vote. In a July 20 statement, the organization claimed that the agreement “does not include key health and safety measures.” In a response the same day, the union replied that Time’s Up “has made a serious mistake” in weighing in on the contract ratification process.
In an effort to get members’ support, SAG-AFTRA and its national leaders promoted on its platforms that Patricia Clarkson, Robert De Niro, Alec Baldwin, Christopher Meloni, Jason George and Michelle Hurd were among those members voting yes. During a video chat with Baldwin posted July 20, Carteris spoke positively of the agreement’s gains: “This was the contract of a negotiating team that are working actors, and we benefit from everything we put forward to help support this membership and the union.”