|Full name||Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists|
|Founded||March 30, 2012|
|Members||116,741 ("active" members) (2016)
80,440 (other members; withdrawn/suspended) (2014)
|Affiliation||AAAA, AFL-CIO, IFJ, International Federation of Actors|
|Office location||5757 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, California
Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) is an American labor union representing approximately 160,000 film and television actors, journalists, radio personalities, recording artists, singers, voice actors, and other media professionals worldwide. The organization was formed on March 30, 2012, following the merger of the Screen Actors Guild (created in 1933) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (created in 1937 as American Federation of Radio Artists, becoming AFTRA in 1952 after merger with Television Authority). SAG-AFTRA is a member of the AFL–CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States.
As of January 2013, Variety reported that the merger had proceeded with "few bumps", amid shows of good will on both sides. The stickiest remaining problem was reported to be the merger of the two pension funds, in part as a way of dealing with the issue of performers who paid into each plan, yet did not quite earn enough under either of the old plans to qualify for a pension.
The union is perceived as having two factions. The larger faction has focused on creating job opportunities for members. A second faction has criticized the current administration for being too quick and soft when it comes to negotiations with studios.
SAG-AFTRA has a diverse membership consisting of actors, announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, disc jockeys, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists and other media professionals.
Membership in SAG-AFTRA is considered a rite of passage for new performers and media professionals. It is often procured after getting hired for their first job in a studio that has a collective bargaining agreement with the union. SAG-AFTRA work is considered to be substantially more prestigious than non-union jobs. Due to the size and influence of the union, most major media firms have a collective bargaining agreement with SAG-AFTRA. Studios that have signed a collective bargaining agreement with SAG-AFTRA are not closed shops, but are generally required to give preference to union members first when hiring.
Nearly all professional actors and media professionals working for medium or large-scale American media firms are expected to be unionized. As a result, SAG-AFTRA has many members who are consistently out of work, uncommon for a union, but reflective of how work is procured in the industry. According to SAG-AFTRA's Department of Labor records since its founding, around 34%, or a third, of the union's total membership have consistently been considered "withdrawn," "suspended," or otherwise not categorized as "active" members. These members are ineligible to vote in the union. "Honorable withdrawals" constitute the largest portion of these, at 20% of the total membership, or 46,934 members. "Suspended payment" members are the second largest, at 14%, or 33,422 members. This classification scheme is continued from the Screen Actors Guild, rather than the scheme used by AFTRA.
SAG-AFTRA is headquartered in Los Angeles, California, with another national office in New York City and other local offices nationwide.
Major strikes and boycotts
After about a year and a half of negotiations, SAG-AFTRA issued a strike on October 21, 2016 in opposition towards eleven American video game developers and publishers, including Activision, Electronic Arts, Insomniac Games, Take 2 Interactive, and WB Games. The strike resulted from attempted negotiations since February 2015 to replace the previous contract, the Interactive Media Agreement, that expired in late 2014. There were four major issues being fought for with this strike. Transparency, so actors can better negotiate their contracts, preventing vocal stress from long recording sessions, stunt coordinators on performance capture sets, and payment of residuals based on sales of a video game, which have traditionally not been used in the video game industry. SAG-AFTRA members sought to bring equity for video game actors as in other industries, while the video game companies feared that giving residuals to actors would overshadow the contributions of programmers and artists that contribute to the games. It was the first such organized strike within the video game industry and the first voice actors' strike in 17 years, as well as the first strike within the merged SAG-AFTRA organization. As of April 23, 2017, it became the longest strike within SAG, surpassing the 95-day 1980 Emmy Awards strike, and the 2000 commercials strike.
An agreement was reached on September 23, 2017, ending the 340-day strike.
On February 9, 2016, NBC Universal, Telemundo's parent company, faced claims by SAG-AFTRA of operating under a double standard between its Spanish-language and English-language talent at NBC and Telemundo. In their response, the network released a statement claiming they are “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 with the rest of the broadcasting industry in accordance with market size and station revenues.”
A few days later on February 13, 2016 SAG-AFTRA came back and added that Telemundo had been treating its employees like “second-class professionals” given that many actors do not receive basic workplace guarantees that SAG-AFTRA contracts provide, such as fair pay, water breaks, health insurance and residuals. At that time, Telemundo president Luis Silberwasser responded saying that SAG-AFTRA asked for recognition of the union as the bargaining agent for employees — rather than seeking a vote by employees. However, SAG-AFTRA claimed that intimidation tactics had been taking place within the network to keep employees from unionizing and that they believe “there is no such thing as a ‘fair vote’ when workers are afraid for their careers and livelihoods, and live with the fear of retaliation if they are seen as actively wanting to unionize. SAG-AFTRA wants to ensure full protection for workplace democracy and performers’ rights to choose through a truly fair process.”
In August 2016, Telemundo once again found itself up against the union when the network refused to air an ad placed by SAG-AFTRA detailing the unfair wage gap and lack of benefits Telemundo employees face as opposed to unionized performers at NBCUniversal. The ad was set to air during the network’s premiere people’s choice awards Premios Tu Mundo but was never placed into rotation. A Telemundo spokesperson responded saying, “After legal review, we have concluded the ad did not pass legal standards for issue-based advertisement.” Meanwhile, other Spanish-language networks such as MegaTV and Estrella TV aired the ad nationwide.
SAG-AFTRA continued to stand its ground, stating that "Telemundo's decision to censor 30 seconds of truthful commentary about its working conditions shows just how averse it is to having a transparent discussion about its refusal to fairly compensate Spanish-speaking performers."
In March 2016, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) administered a secret vote amongst 124 Telemundo performers, based on the amount of time actors have worked on telenovela dramas and other shows. SAG-AFTRA announced that 81% of eligible voters chose to unionize in a balloting process that began Feb. 7 and lasted four weeks.
Joining the union will allow Telemundo actors, along with singers, dancers and stunt people, to bargain with the network for health insurance, residual payments and other benefits that are routine at English-language television networks.
- Whipp, Glenn, SAG Awards 2016: Take that, Oscars -- diversity's the big winner tonight, Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2016
- US Department of Labor, Office of Labor-Management Standards. File number 000-391. Report submitted July 30, 2014.
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- SAG-AFTRA, Steps to Join
- US Department of Labor, Office of Labor-Management Standards. File number 000-391. (Search)
- US Department of Labor, Office of Labor-Management Standards. File number 000-113. (Search)
- US Department of Labor, Office of Labor-Management Standards. File number 000-030. (Search)
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