George Clooney, Ben Affleck, Scarlett Johansson and a host of other celebrities submitted a proposal to lead SAG-AFTRA on Tuesday, which they hope will help end the 98-day actors’ strike.
But the proposal was rejected on Wednesday by the union’s negotiating committee, which is sticking to the demands it set over several weeks of negotiations.
To understand why, it may be helpful to dig deeper into the proposal.
There are two main components: increased benefits for high-income actors and a change in residuals to ensure low-income actors get paid first.
Under current rules, SAG-AFTRA members pay $231.96 in base fees each year, plus 1.575% of covered earnings up to $1 million. The A-listers’ proposal would eliminate that cap, subjecting all of an actor’s covered earnings to a 1.575% assessment.
Clooney estimated that this would generate $50 million annually. (This seems high, because it implies that actors earn about $3.2 billion annually above the cap, which equates to about 160 actors averaging $21 million annually, which is a far-fetched amount.)
More importantly, the main problem with this is that the SAG-AFTRA strike is not about dues. SAG-AFTRA is on strike to increase actors’ income, not to increase union funding. The two things are not interchangeable. An increase in union dues cannot offset payments studios owe to actors or to their pension and health funds.
Dues also have nothing to do with the collective bargaining process, because they are not subject to negotiation between the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. It is being drawn up by SAG-AFTRA’s national board, which would have to go through a separate process, which might include selling high-earning actors on the idea of paying more to the union.
While SAG-AFTRA will likely find a use for any additional funds, the union is not experiencing a reduction in dues. The union reported receiving $127 million last fiscal year, a significant increase from the previous year as production rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.
Fran Drescher, president of SAG-AFTRA, explained that dues cannot be used to fund a state’s retirement and health plans Instagram video Released Thursday night.
“It’s kind of apples and oranges,” she explained. She added that the increased dues “does not affect the contract we have on it at all.”
The remaining structure is “bottom-up”.
The group also proposes a residual structure in which the lowest-paid actors would be paid first, and the highest earners would receive the remainder last.
This seems to confuse waste with profit sharing. A-list actors can negotiate a percentage of profits, which are paid out on the backend in a “waterfall” system. As more profits come in, the money starts trickling down, so it makes a big difference where the actor is placed in the waterfall.
That’s not how waste works. Residues are paid at the same time to everyone who is entitled to them. Every time a project is sold to a new medium, or rebroadcast on television, syndicate contracts specify exactly who is worth what. Waste has nothing to do with profit. There is no “waterfall”, and it does not matter where the actor is stationed.
Drescher also addressed the remaining suggestion in her Instagram video.
“This has been examined by our highly experienced union contract staff, negotiators and lawyers, and they have said that unfortunately it does not hold up,” she said. “Honestly, this is a very careful house of cards.”
In other words, none of these proposals address the problems that prompted the representatives to strike for 98 days. These issues are: a union proposal to pay a share of revenue flowing to actors, increasing the minimum to keep up with inflation, and regulations related to artificial intelligence.
These proposals appear to be motivated by a sincere desire to end the strike, as well as sentiment Nobles obligesuggesting that high-income actors must sacrifice in order to reach this decision.
However, from the perspective of the SAG-AFTRA Negotiating Committee, the proposal appears to weaken the sense of unity and commitment to the committee’s proposals — which is key to reaching the best possible deal. He also points out that high-income actors should somehow step in to pay for things that studios have refused to pay for — thus reducing the pressure on studios to pay for them.
When asked what top-tier representatives could do to help reach a solution, one person close to the talks suggested they join the picket line.
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