Entertainment Weekly

Subscribe

Stay Connected

Subscribe

Advertise With Us

Learn More

Skip to content

Article

Actors discuss potential SAG strike at Hollywood meeting

Posted on

The Screen Actors Guild and its smaller sister union, the

American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, have been trying to hammer

out individual contracts with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television

Producers for several weeks now. Unfortunately, the unions despise each other,

which leaves working actors caught in the middle of a political cat fight. And

that’s a tough predicament for many since, well, most Hollywood actors aren’t Will Smith. Consider

this: According to a Los Angeles Times

analysis, 72.1 percent of actors make less than $5,000 per year, and less than 2

percent of them make enough to own a Bentley.

While SAG and AFTRA duke it out, many actors have been

trying to make sense of the current situation. So on July 1, TroyGould attorney

and former WGA counsel Jonathan Handel met with about 35 actors at the Actors’

Network headquarters in Studio City, Calif., to help them help them sort out union facts from spin — which

is especially important to those who are members of both unions. Instead of

focusing on its own negotiations, SAG has been trying to persuade dual

cardholders to vote against AFTRA’s tentative agreement. The results of that

vote, which are due July 8, will likely influence what SAG does next: get back

to the negotiating table or ask its members for strike authorization.

During Handel’s run-through, most actors took notes on a

slew of topics. More on those and a deeper look at the sample of actors in

attendance, after the jump.

Handel discussed many subjects in his talk. SAG’s leadership.

How the union’s hard line may have led to the present circumstances. How the

producers were able to play SAG and AFTRA against each other as a result. Why

the WGA made a good deal, but not a great one (it achieved gains on new media,

but not big gains). Why a merger of both unions would be beneficial to actors

(more manpower, for starters). The areas that SAG and producers need to

realistically compromise on. Why it might be difficult for SAG to strike (they

need a strike authorization vote of 75 percent), even though only a small percentage

of the union would be truly hurt by one (about 90 percent of SAG

members aren’t actively working). And how SAG doesn’t have a hard deadline to

hold over producers’ heads the way the writers did with the Oscars.

While the actors at the meeting learned about the current

situation, EW.com learned more about them and some of the circumstances they

are facing. At least five of them said there have been years in which they

could not meet the threshold for their health care and pension plans, because the

unions operate separately. About 10 actors said they have received robo-calls

from stars on behalf of each guild, appealing to them to vote for or against

the AFTRA contract. When Handel asked actors whether any of them had recently

auditioned for a studio movie job, not one person raised his or her hand. This

is a sign that studios are not putting projects into production for fear that

they would be interrupted by a SAG strike (a situation Handel characterized as a

de-facto lockout). About six actors did say they had recently auditioned for an

independent film (most indie producers received waivers from SAG to continue

production whether there is a strike or not). And no matter what happens next

with the AFTRA contract, none of the actors felt that the additional gains SAG is

pressing for would be worth striking over, at least during this

negotiations cycle.

By no means were the actors passive; several, in fact, stood

up to voice their concerns and opinions. “It’s not that we’re wimpy”

for thinking a strike “is unjustified,” one insisted.

Said Kevin West, founder and president of the Actors’

Network: “If all we’re going to do every three years is pretty much get

2.5 or 3 percent [on minimum pay], which is the basic rate of inflation, you

could almost [phone] this in. It’s just like standard stuff that we go through

all of these fights every three years, and quite frankly, nothing since the

time I moved to California has really changed. We get our 2.5 [percent], threaten a strike, and here we go

again. I don’t get why our unions aren’t discussing [a possible merger], as

opposed to barking over the same cross-jurisdictional stuff we’ve been arguing

over for 20 years.”

Actor Phil Kaufman, who is a member of SAG, AFTRA, and the stage

union Actors’ Equity, added: “About six months ago, I was the most

pro-strike guy. Before the writers’ strike, I thought the writers’ strike was a

just cause, I stood by it. The current SAG leadership has shown that they are

not leadership capable of taking us into a strike. They’ve made strategic and

tactical errors along the way that even if I thought it was a good idea on

paper, this isn’t the gang to do it, and this isn’t the time to do it. That

ship has sailed. So I think that reflects a lot of people I know, and others

who have been on one side of things and have felt like whatever the justice of

the cause, sadly, it’s analogous to the Iraq war. Whatever you think about

how we got into it, we’re mired and there’s not way out but a series of lousy

choices.”

Handel discussed many subjects in his talk. SAG’s leadership.How the union’s hard line may have led to the present circumstances. How theproducers were able to play SAG and AFTRA against each other as a result. Whythe WGA made a good deal, but not a great one (it achieved gains on new media,but not big gains). Why a merger of both unions would be beneficial to actors(more manpower, for starters). The areas that SAG and producers need torealistically compromise on. Why it might be difficult for SAG to strike (theyneed a strike authorization vote of 75 percent), even though only a small percentageof the union would be truly hurt by one (about 90 percent of SAGmembers aren’t actively working). And how SAG doesn’t have a hard deadline tohold over producers’ heads the way the writers did with the Oscars.

While the actors at the meeting learned about the currentsituation, EW.com learned more about them and some of the circumstances theyare facing. At least five of them said there have been years in which theycould not meet the threshold for their health care and pension plans, because theunions operate separately. About 10 actors said they have received robo-callsfrom stars on behalf of each guild, appealing to them to vote for or againstthe AFTRA contract. When Handel asked actors whether any of them had recentlyauditioned for a studio movie job, not one person raised his or her hand. Thisis a sign that studios are not putting projects into production for fear thatthey would be interrupted by a SAG strike (a situation Handel characterized as ade-facto lockout). About six actors did say they had recently auditioned for anindependent film (most indie producers received waivers from SAG to continueproduction whether there is a strike or not). And no matter what happens nextwith the AFTRA contract, none of the actors felt that the additional gains SAG ispressing for would be worth striking over, at least during thisnegotiations cycle.

By no means were the actors passive; several, in fact, stoodup to voice their concerns and opinions. “It’s not that we’re wimpy”for thinking a strike “is unjustified,” one insisted.

Said Kevin West, founder and president of the Actors’Network: “If all we’re going to do every three years is pretty much get2.5 or 3 percent [on minimum pay], which is the basic rate of inflation, youcould almost [phone] this in. It’s just like standard stuff that we go throughall of these fights every three years, and quite frankly, nothing since thetime I moved to California has really changed. We get our 2.5 [percent], threaten a strike, and here we goagain. I don’t get why our unions aren’t discussing [a possible merger], asopposed to barking over the same cross-jurisdictional stuff we’ve been arguingover for 20 years.”

Actor Phil Kaufman, who is a member of SAG, AFTRA, and the stageunion Actors’ Equity, added: “About six months ago, I was the mostpro-strike guy. Before the writers’ strike, I thought the writers’ strike was ajust cause, I stood by it. The current SAG leadership has shown that they arenot leadership capable of taking us into a strike. They’ve made strategic andtactical errors along the way that even if I thought it was a good idea onpaper, this isn’t the gang to do it, and this isn’t the time to do it. Thatship has sailed. So I think that reflects a lot of people I know, and otherswho have been on one side of things and have felt like whatever the justice ofthe cause, sadly, it’s analogous to the Iraq war. Whatever you think abouthow we got into it, we’re mired and there’s not way out but a series of lousychoices.”

Comments