Campaign stresses U.S. production

HOLLYWOOD — The Screen Actors Guild has set a kickoff party for its campaign to persuade high-profile members to refuse work on non-union contracts outside the United States.

“As foreign production has increased, SAG members are increasingly being contacted to work abroad without the benefit of a SAG contract,” said board member Frances Fisher, who serves on the guild task force on the issue. “The impact is significant because no contributions are made to the guild’s health and pension funds when a member works outside the United States without a SAG contract, and performers in most cases aren’t paid residuals on these foreign productions.”

Lax enforcement

The Sept. 9 party, set to honor SAG’s Emmy nominees at Deep in Hollywood, is the first event to result from a recent vote by SAG’s national board for an informational push on the issue. Rule One of SAG’s constitution explicitly bars members from working for producers who are not signatory to SAG agreements, but SAG’s enforcement has been lax when it comes to foreign work on films and TV.

When SAG presented its initial film-TV contract proposal to studios and networks in May, it included expansion of the “scope” of the contract beyond U.S. borders. Union negotiators subsequently contended that rising levels of foreign shooting in less expensive locales have led to safety problems and declining pension and health contributions.

SAG sources said the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers responded by saying the idea was not a “mandatory subject of bargaining” because the producers in question are not AMPTP members. “Essentially, we were told that scope is our problem,” one said.

Simmering subject

The issue had been fermenting within SAG for several years with the growth of runaway production. The national board created the task force after Kevin Spacey issued an appeal at the January membership meeting to refuse non-union work (Daily Variety, Jan. 16), leading to the 300 members present approving an advisory motion to SAG’s national board to step up Rule One enforcement. Violators can be fined, suspended or expelled after a trial board hearing.

Tess Harper, who was named to SAG’s negotiating team, made a similar pitch in March (Daily Variety, March 6) and asserted that the guild needed to begin a campaign to reach name actors who carry enough clout to get projects greenlit. Such a move by high-profile actors, she said, will benefit other SAG members on that project because they probably also will work under a guild contract.

“No union has ever gained ground without making a stand for what it believes,” Harper said at the time. “If we don’t stop running scared now, I believe that our union will be virtually useless in the next 10 years. Why should the owners of studios be any different than the owners of Nike?”

The issue also has gained momentum as a result of the SAG-industry pension and health plan announcing tightened eligibility and benefits, partly as a result of runaway production (Daily Variety, July 31).

SAG said the Sept. 9 event would include a specific announcement about the direction of the “Global Rule One” campaign. But SAG’s leaders have not yet decided to take the next step and begin enforcement of Rule One, which could include directing staff to bring members up on charges for working without a SAG contract.

SAG said those invited to the party include elected officials and reps from the AFL-CIO’s Arts & Action Cultural Project.

“Unions don’t exist in a vacuum,” said SAG prexy William Daniels. “SAG understands the importance of tapping into all of our resources in order to successfully protect the interests of professional artists and performers.”

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