SAG-AFTRA Passes TV Animation Strike Authorization for SVOD Fight

All Hail King Julien Still - H 2014

All Hail King Julien Still - H 2014

The fight is over animation for streaming platforms, but a strike — if one happens — would silence all TV animation made with union voices.

SAG-AFTRA members overwhelmingly granted the union’s board of directors the ability to call a TV animation strike, voting 98.27 percent in favor of the authorization, according to a letter to members from union president Gabrielle Carteris that appeared on the SAG-AFTRA website Wednesday after voting closed.

The union’s fight is with production for streaming video on demand platforms such as Netflix and Amazon, which SAG-AFTRA says do not pay scale wages or residuals, according to a June 27, 2018, letter, also posted. SAG-AFTRA actors do the voice work for most television animation.

“The last offer that the producers made, which is now expired, contained a partial, inadequate improvement … at an unacceptable price,” says the letter.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers offered a more sanguine view: “The AMPTP and SAG-AFTRA have been engaged in meaningful discussions over a new Television Animation Agreement and a new Basic Cable Animation Agreement for several months,” said an AMPTP spokesman. “Those discussions have yielded progress, but there are still a few open items to resolve.”

Although the letters focus on SVOD platforms, a union FAQ explains that a strike would affect all television animation — including broadcast and cable work — because a single pair of contracts govern. They expired over a year ago, June 30, 2017, and the June 27 letter says that since then 22 additional series have been produced for subscription-based streaming platforms, compared to 23 new series for basic cable.

Negotiations over the past year have not yielded an acceptable contract, said the letter. SAG-AFTRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Our animation community finds itself in the fight of its life,” says the earlier of the two letters, “working under expired contracts that do not provide for scale wages or residuals in the fastest-growing area of their work: Animated programs made for subscription-based streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon.” The letter also cites Warner’s Boomerang streaming platform, which has ordered at least eight original series, and Disney’s platform still in development.

The union intends to use the strike authorization vote, or SAV, as leverage at the bargaining table. But the studios urged forbearance.

“Given the animation Producers’ long-standing positive relationship with the leadership of SAG-AFTRA, as well as their commitment to exploring a variety of ways to reach a deal, we hope that talk of a strike can be put aside in favor of ascertaining the facts about the business that are relevant to the issues that separate us and finding ways to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.”

An SAV is not the same thing as a strike. “This referendum result does not mean members are on strike,” explains Wednesday’s letter. “Rather, it gives the National Board the authority to declare a strike if absolutely necessary. We will keep negotiating with producers.”

The union obtained improvements for so-called high budget SVOD shows in 2014 and 2017, but those terms are tailored for live-action content. Minimum budget and duration thresholds apply — $1.3 million per episode and 20 minutes per episode — that the June 27 letter says have excluded almost all animation productions, leaving them subject to a skeletal framework negotiated in 2008-09 that contains no minimums.

According to the letter, “approximately 80 percent of live-action programs made for subscription-based streaming platforms are covered by terms that provide scale wages and residuals,” i.e., the high-budget SVOD terms. That figure has not previously been made public.

In contrast, says the letter, “the producer’s last offer will cover less than half” of animated programs made for SVOD, and even that comes with various required concessions the union deems unacceptable.

The union declined to say how many members voted for the SAV, releasing only the percentage. Typically, SAV and contract ratification ballots for specialized areas of work are sent only to “affected members,” meaning members that have achieved a particular level of earnings in that type of work over a specified, recent period of time. The requisite level and time period are defined as part of the process of preparing for negotiations or action.