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SAG’s dues blues

Guild making noise about fee increase

More money, please.

SAG members are likely to face a vote in coming months on a possible dues increase — the first such hike in seven years.

Leaders of the Screen Actors Guild haven’t yet hammered out details of how much to ask for, when to ask for it and — most important — how to explain why the increase is needed.

Execs and elected representatives have been waiting until after Thursday’s board of directors election to move ahead on the initiative. But many staffers and reps agree SAG needs a bigger budget if it’s going to deliver an acceptable level of services.

The grousing by members has been particularly notable in such basic areas as getting phones calls answered at the Hollywood HQ and seeing residuals checks delivered on time.

SAG had no comment in response to a Daily Variety inquiry. Guild’s most recent filing with the Labor Dept. shows that member dues generated $37.4 million in revenues during the fiscal year ended in April 2004.

SAG’s national board would have to approve a dues increase, followed by an endorsement by the guild’s 120,000 members. Board approval could be contentious, given SAG’s reputation for internal battles. And member approval could be problematic, since the last attempt to hike dues was voted down.

In 2004, the national board strongly supported a dues hike that would have raised an additional $7.3 million for the $43 million annual budget. Proposal called for base dues to increase by $30 per year to $130 and for work dues to rise from 1.85% to 1.95% for earnings under $200,000 and from 0.5% to 1% on wages from $200,000 to $500,000; new-member initiation fees would have jumped from $1,356 to $2,085.

The subsequent sales pitch to members was two-fold: Additional funds were needed for a war chest for use in negotiations and to aggressively pursue and expand member service programs. Initiative failed by a slender 52%-48% margin, with 36% of members voting.

In 1999, SAG members had OK’d their first dues increase in a dozen years, with base moved up from $85 to $100 a year. Approval came after leaders asserted that services would be cut and reserves would be drained.

As part of the dues increase, SAG leaders funded a Towers Perrin consultants report that was delivered in 2000 and described the guild’s operations as “organized chaos.”

In 2001, SAG took the extraordinary step of apologizing for delays in deliveries of residuals; the next year, the guild insisted it was fixing the residuals problem by improving internal computer systems as part of a $4.4 million technology upgrade.

But slow delivery of residual checks, often stretching into delays of several months, continues to plague SAG members. Guild receives more than 200,000 such checks per month, but hasn’t ever been able to convince studios and nets to automate the process.

The AFTRA-SAG Federal Credit Union, which has been handling about 20,000 checks monthly, told members last month that it would stop direct deposit of the checks as of Dec. 1 after doing it for the past three decades. The credit union said the amount of time it was taking for the process was unacceptable and placed the blame on a lack of automation.

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