The dispute went public Wednesday, when SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris and National Executive Director David White delivered a message to members that they are willing to offer a waiver in order to create more work opportunities for AEA members — but that it must contain an acknowledgment of SAG-AFTRA’s jurisdiction
“That waiver contains a very clear statement of our jurisdiction,” Carteris and White said. “Regrettably, AEA has not agreed to the waiver.”
The message also raised the possibility that Actors Equity may be attempting to poach jurisdiction from SAG-AFTRA.
“Our discussions with AEA’s leadership about these waivers have surfaced very real concerns on the part of their leadership over the long-term viability of the live theater business model,” the duo said. “In these conversations, it has become clear that, in several specific instances, AEA may have attempted to extend their presence into our jurisdiction and believes that extending into SAG-AFTRA jurisdiction may be strategically advantageous to AEA in the future.”
Mary McColl, executive director of New York-based Actors Equity said that SAG-AFTRA is using the pandemic to claim jurisdiction in Equity workplaces now and into the future in a way they haven’t had before.
“At a time when solidarity is required, SAG-AFTRA has chosen to disrupt the relationship between employers and actors that has existed for years, if not decades,” McColl said. “Ultimately, the workers are the ones who are left behind.”
McColl has sent an email to members saying that it had created temporary COVID-19 remote work agreements based on employers’ existing collective bargaining agreements, generating more than 3,400 work weeks, $2.5 million in earnings and more than $670,000 in contributions to the health fund. But it did not address SAG-AFTRA’s demand that its jurisdiction be recognized in waiver agreements.
“When these remote work agreements were created, we explained to SAG-AFTRA that these agreements were temporary and only for existing Equity employers, but that they were important for keeping members and the industry afloat during this crisis,” McColl said in the message.
“Unfortunately, since then, members have told us about longtime Equity employers signing with SAG-AFTRA, often for performances taking place in a theater so it can be captured for future use. Members have told us they were offered contracts for as little as $125 per day. Multiple stage mangers told us they have been excluded entirely, had their contracts revoked or been offered work as independent contractors and without workers’ compensation protections.”
McColl said that it’s unfair for Equity members to sign with SAG-AFTRA: “That is unfair to members like you who expected your Equity health and pension contributions, and who ended up with lower pay. It is unclear why SAG-AFTRA continues to sign longtime Equity employers to contracts that do not meet Equity’s safety or wage standards. As a union, our job is to ensure that workers are protected with fair pay, benefits and a safe workplace. This is supposed to be a matter of solidarity throughout the labor movement.”
McColl estimated that around 60 productions this year have signed with SAG-AFTRA, amounting to $600,000 in lost earnings and $154,000 in lost contributions to the health fund.
The letter from Carteris and White opened by saying, “We write to make you aware of an emerging issue between SAG-AFTRA and our sister union, Actors’ Equity Association (AEA). As you know, SAG-AFTRA’s jurisdiction is very clear. We cover recorded and broadcast media in all their forms. That means movies, television, new media, commercials, radio, music and sound recordings, and digital content, whether recorded or delivered live. In essence, all live media or recorded media falls under our historical and traditional jurisdiction.”
The letter alleged that AEA leaders have become surprisingly “uncertain” about SAG-AFTRA’s traditional jurisdiction, and that “uncertainty” has presented a serious challenge to providing broad waivers to support the members of AEA. It added that SAG-AFTRA has for decades covered, recorded or live broadcast presentations including Broadway shows (e.g., “Hamilton,” “Diana” and “Jesus Christ Superstar”); televised special events (e.g., the annual Tony Awards and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade); morning shows (e.g., “The Today Show” and “Live with Kelly & Ryan”); late night shows (e.g., “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”).
“Because of the pandemic and recognizing the challenges it has brought to all of us in the creative arts, we are particularly mindful of the needs of our sister unions in the live theater sector,” Carteris and White said. “SAG-AFTRA has offered to allow AEA to cover recorded and broadcast live theater productions that are squarely within SAG-AFTRA’s jurisdiction under AEA contracts pursuant to the terms of a written waiver in order to create more work opportunities for AEA members.”
The message to SAG-AFTRA members included a link to the proposed draft agreement that will expire in April.