SAG-AFTRA Mobilizes Against Telemundo Over Non-Union Stance
Actors at the Spanish-language NBCUniversal unit don’t get health insurance, residuals or other benefits; those at English-language NBC do.
SAG-AFTRA, which has been quietly organizing over the last several months against NBCUniversal’s Telemundo unit, amped up the pressure on the non-union broadcaster Wednesday with the announcement of an advisory council of government officials and labor leaders in South Florida, where the company is based.
The initiative, dubbed #SAGAFTRAUNIDOS, seeks to end what the union blasted as “double-standard practices in Spanish-language television,” in which NBCUniversal has agreed to SAG-AFTRA contracts for English-language outlets such as NBC and other NBCUniversal properties but not for Telemundo.
Those contracts guarantee wage minimums, meal breaks, health insurance and residuals, among other benefits.
“Despite Telemundo’s bravado as a champion of diversity, inclusion and empowerment for the Hispanic American community, the company’s actions behind the scenes tell a much different story,” said SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris. “In addition to treating its Spanish-language talent as second-class citizens, Telemundo has actively employed tactics to dissuade talent from obtaining union protections. SAG-AFTRA strongly opposes such tactics, and I speak for concerned performers and citizens across the country when I say that we stand with Telemundo performers facing this injustice.”
“If Telemundo hopes to position itself as the empowering voice of the U.S. Hispanic community for years to come, the unfair double standard must end,” said SAG-AFTRA national executive director David White.
“We remain committed to making Telemundo a great place to work for our employees and will continue to invest in them to ensure their salaries and working conditions are competitive,” said a Telemundo spokesperson. “We are dedicated to Telemundo’s long term success, which has created hundreds of high-value jobs and provided a valuable service to the Hispanic community in the United States.”
The spokesperson declined to say why Telemundo had chosen not to sign with SAG-AFTRA even though some of its corporate siblings are long-time signatories.
“Hispanic media and entertainment is an important part of the Miami community,” said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz, a member of the new advisory council. “We want it to continue growing and that includes all elements of that industry, including the talent. I see myself as a bridge between all parties so that together this industry becomes even more prosperous for our local economy.”
Other members of the advisory council include Doral City, Fla. Councilwoman Sandra Ruiz, United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats and labor attorney Mark Richard.
Miami has long been a destination for Latin American performers looking to cross over into the U.S market, but the union says that current working conditions have made it difficult for them to thrive in the city, citing low pay, long hours, poor working conditions and lack of benefits.
“We are actors because we have a passion and a love for the craft, but the current environment does not allow us to grow in this space,” said actor Christian de la Campa, who has starred in such recent Telemundo productions as Tierra de Reyes, Relaciones Peligrosas, La Patrona and Santa Diabla. “As such, we think it’s important to provide a solid platform from which future generations of professional Spanish-language actors can successfully build from and succeed in the United States.”
The union suggested too that Telemundo’s allegedly tightfisted treatment of its actors starkly contrasts with nine-figure spending on infrastructure and sports rights. Earlier this year, Telemundo announced a new $250 million facility in West Miami-Dade County – which the union asserts will dramatically increase production of telenovelas when it opens in 2018 – while in 2011 the network paid $600 million for Spanish language U.S. rights to FIFA World Cup soccer from 2015 through 2022, a deal subsequently extended to 2026.
NBCUniversal executives have cited both the new building and the FIFA deal as examples of the company’s commitment to Telemundo. But the union says that commitment doesn’t extend to the subsidiary’s actors.
“As Telemundo reaps the financial benefits of massive growth and record ratings, it is incomprehensible that NBCUniversal would allow such a harmful double standard to persist within its company,” said White. “While SAG-AFTRA has enjoyed a productive relationship with NBCUniversal for years regarding English-language talent and programming, it is time for Spanish-speaking performers to receive fair treatment and recognition for their contribution to the company’s continued success.”
The official campaign kickoff takes place Wednesday at a private event in Coral Gables, south of downtown Miami.
Updated 8/3/2016 6:45 pm PT with Telemundo statement.