Leaders of SAG-AFTRA have escalated the union’s bitter jurisdictional battle with Actors’ Equity Association, asking that the Associated Actors and Artistes of America name a mediator.
SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris and National Executive Director David White also requested AFL-CIO intervention in a letter to Richard Trumka, president of the national labor federation.
“It is with heavy hearts that we file a formal complaint and request for a mediator in our jurisdictional dispute,” Carteris and White said in a message to their members. “Let us be very clear: this is a last resort. We tried negotiation, but Actors’ Equity Association refused our waiver and walked away from talks with no notice.”
The two unions are locked in a dispute over which should cover the streaming of live events. Each has blamed the other for the breakdown. Actors’ Equity, which represents 51,000 theater actors and stage managers, has accused SAG-AFTRA of raiding its turf and undercutting its contracts by negotiating lower-paying deals with theaters for streaming productions. SAG-AFTRA, which represents 160,000 performers in film, TV and radio, is asserting that work made for broadcast is within its jurisdiction.
White and Carteris said in the letter to Trumka, “Since the conflict has arisen as a result of, or at least been greatly exacerbated by, the financial strains placed on AEA union members during the COVID-19 pandemic, SAG-AFTRA has made clear its willingness to grant waivers to AEA to allow it to perform much of the work in dispute for a limited period of time, and subject to various jurisdictional acknowledgements. To the present date, at least, AEA has been unwilling to accept what SAG-AFTRA had assumed would be perfectly logical and acceptable conditions in exchange for these waivers.”
The letter also said both SAG-AFTRA and AEA are members of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (also known as the 4As) and that SAG-AFTRA is invoking the 4As’ jurisdictional dispute resolution procedures and noted that those are to be carried out with the input of the AFL-CIO’s Department of Professional Employees.
“Consequently, we respectfully request that the AFL-CIO’s DPE assist the parties in this matter, including, but not limited to, facilitating the appointment of a mediator to pursue an agreement as to this matter,” Carteris and White said. “Although SAG-AFTRA has decided to initiate dispute resolution processes through the 4As, we remain willing and eager to use the services of the AFL-CIO’s DPE to find an amicable resolution to the dispute if possible.”
The dispute went public on Oct. 7, when Carteris and White delivered a message to members that their union was willing to offer a waiver in order to create more work opportunities for AEA members — but that it must contain an acknowledgment of SAG-AFTRA’s jurisdiction. The duo said that Actors’ Equity has refused to compromise.
“We write to make you aware of an emerging issue between SAG-AFTRA and our sister union, Actors’ Equity Association (AEA). As you know, SAG-AFTRA’s jurisdiction is very clear,” Carteris and White said in the Oct. 7 letter. “We cover recorded and broadcast media in all their forms. That means movies, television, new media, commercials, radio, music and sound recordings, and digital content, whether recorded or delivered live. In essence, all live media or recorded media falls under our historical and traditional jurisdiction.”
Mary McColl, executive director of New York-based Actors’ Equity, went public at the same time and accused SAG-AFTRA of using the pandemic to claim jurisdiction in Equity workplaces. She asserted cast members are not paid as well and lose contributions toward Equity health and pension benefits. McColl also said stage managers — who are not covered by SAG-AFTRA — are excluded under such deals.
“Members have told us they were offered contracts for as little as $125 per day,” she said. “Multiple stage mangers told us they have been excluded entirely, had their contracts revoked or been offered work as independent contractors and without workers’ compensation protections.”
McColl estimated that around 60 productions this year have signed with SAG-AFTRA, amounting to $600,000 in lost earnings and $154,000 in lost contributions to the health fund.
SAG-AFTRA said in the Oct 7. letter that it had for decades covered recorded or live broadcast presentations including Broadway shows (“Hamilton,” “Diana” and “Jesus Christ Superstar”); televised special events (the Tony Awards and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade); morning shows (“The Today Show” and “Live with Kelly & Ryan”); and late night shows (“The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”).
A spokesman for Actors’ Equity responded to SAG-AFTRA’s latest moves by citing a resolution passed Friday by the union’s national council that asserted that SAG-AFTRA is violating the constitution of the AFL-CIO which states in part that, “No affiliate shall organize or attempt to represent employees as to whom an established collective bargaining relationship exists with any other affiliate.”
Part of the resolution said, “SAG-AFTRA’s claim of “jurisdiction” does not in any way override Equity’s Recognition Agreements with its own bargaining partners, rendering invalid and unnecessary any subsequent “waiver” offered by SAG-AFTRA; and SAG-AFTRA’s unsanctioned organizing efforts of Equity employers disregard the cooperative relationship between the two unions regarding broadcast of theatrical content, which has existed for almost seven decades, and SAG-AFTRA’s unsanctioned organizing efforts of Equity employers have directly resulted in significant loss of $600,000 in earning for Equity members, and $154,000 in lost contributions to the Equity Health Fund.”
The Equity resolution also said, “Equity will respond appropriately and publicly to SAG-AFTRA’s infringement on its legal rights and relationships with its bargaining partners, and will defend its legally binding Collective Bargaining Agreements with its employers in order to represent its members to the best of its ability.”