Five years after SAG and AFTRA merged, performers are showing renewed fire. The union went on strike on Oct. 21 against 11 video-game companies, telling members that they could not perform voice work, and staged three raucous demonstrations in support of performance bonuses and improved safety. The pickets were the first that SAG had staged since the 2007-08 Writers Guild strike.
“We knew going in that this would be a long-term fight, which is why we spent nearly two years in negotiations trying to make a deal before resorting to a strike,” says Gabrielle Carteris, who replaced the late Ken Howard as president last March. “Production cycles in the videogame space are very long, which means it takes time for a strike to have an effect.” She adds, “We are also very focused on working with videogame employers that are not struck to create contracts that make sense for them and for professional performers and that effort has already begun to bear fruit.”
SAG-AFTRA has also been prepping for talks with producers on a successor deal to its master contract, which expires June 30 and covers more than $1 billion in annually. The Directors Guild of America reached a deal on Dec. 23 with a major gain in streaming residuals, so it’s likely the provision will be key at the SAG-AFTRA talks. Carteris, who chairs the negotiating team, says the agreement is vital to the union’s 160,000 members. “They make their living and provide for their families as performers in motion pictures, television shows and new media productions covered by this contract.”
SAG and AFTRA health plans merged in January, enabling more members to qualify, so the talks with the studios could be the first real test of the clout the two guilds sought to gain by merging.The union has also taken an active role in bolstering a new California law requiring the IMDb Pro subscription website to remove actors’ ages, if requested. IMDb sued the state in November to invalidate the law on constitutional grounds; the performers union asked to join the suit as a defendant on Jan. 9 to defend the constitutionality of the “because of its expertise concerning the phenomenon of rampant age discrimination in the entertainment industry.”
SAG-AFTRA general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland says the move is a good use of resources. “Gabrielle went to Sacramento to testify before the Senate Judiciary committee in support of the legislation, which was crafted to be very narrow and apply only to paid database sites. We had asked Amazon repeatedly to revise its policy to address our concerns. Going the legislative route was not our first choice.”