Protest’s no stunt

Picketers assail SAG over contract omission

Stunt performers picketed in front of the Screen Actors Guild on Monday, protesting a proposed commercials contract because it fails to recognize stunt coordinators.

Also among the several dozen protesters were actors dissatisfied with the terms of the proposed contract, which was sent out to members last week for ratification.

Picketers circled a coffin, brandishing placards warning about safety hazards on sets because of the lack of recognition for stunt coordinators.

SAG won recognition of stunt coordinators on TV and theatrical projects in 1995, after trying to include them in their bargaining unit for more than 40 years. But stunt coordinators have so far been unable to gain recognition in the SAG contract for commercial work.

Coordinators keys

The picketers said coordinators are key to setting up scenes properly and directing other stunt performers. But set safety is jeopardized when there is not a person solely designated to do such work, protesters said. On commercials, coordinators often do double duty as performers.

“Commercials usually shoot on shorter schedules with less prep time,” said Gil Combs, president of the National League of SAG Stunt Performers. “… I can’t understand the argument against this. This is about safety, not money.

“To my knowledge, it was used as a pawn to get something off the table,” Combs said.

But SAG officials say they did propose recognition for stunt coordinators, only to be rebuffed by commercial producers, who would face extra expenses paying the coordinator rates.

“The producers did not agree to it.” said Leonard Chassman, SAG’s Hollywood executive director. “A proposal was made, but unfortunately it was not approved. I’m sure it was advocated very strongly.”

Earlier this year, SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists jointly negotiated a new three-year contract for commercial work, which represents one of the largest shares of earnings for thesp members.

Although the joint boards endorsed the contract in a 98-38 vote, the Los Angeles reps voted against it, 37-36.

The proposed pact, retroactive to April 1, includes an 8% increase in session fees. For example, a session fee for an on-camera principal performer will rise from $443.25 to $478.70. The union also won an extension in jurisdiction for extra performers, a 20% increase in use payments for commercial performers on Spanish language networks, and improvement in working conditions for dancers, among other changes.

It also includes a 45% average increase in cable-use payments, or money given to on-camera performers when spots run on cable networks. Opponents see the increase as still far behind those for network TV. The contract includes a cap, after which actors get no additional payment each time a spot airs on a cable network.

But backers of the contract said in a letter to members that they believe gains in cable residuals will “move the unions significantly toward a long- term solution.”

Long-term movement

Before they reached a tentative agreement, members of SAG and AFTRA had voted overwhelmingly to strike if needed.

“We were faced with many regressive industry demands throughout these negotiations,” the SAG-AFTRA statement accompanying ballots said. “Following the return of the strike referendum, we achieved all of the above gains without significant concessions to management.”

Paul Napier, who is on AFTRA’s negotiating team, said that a problem has been that L.A. performers “are underrepresented numerically in the negotiations.” The SAG committee was made up of eight reps from New York, three from Los Angeles and two from smaller branches. Another complaint: that opponents of the contract were not allowed to send out a “con” statement along with the contract ballots. The joint SAG-AFTRA boards voted against such a mailing.

The ballots must be returned by June 24.

“Every contract has some degree of controversy,” Chassman said. “Our position now is to get the facts out and let the members decide.”

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