SAG-AFTRA leaders approve ‘record-breaking’ deal

After reaching a strike-stopping tentative agreement with film and television producers, management at SAG-AFTRA — the entertainment union that represents multiple categories across screens and stages — approved the deal in a board vote Friday and subsequently shared details of the new agreement.

The planned three-year contract, union leaders said, would lead to more than $1 billion in new wages and pensions, streaming bonuses, minimum compensation increases, protections in place for diverse workers and “fair compensation safeguards” around the use of artificial intelligence.

What you need to know

  • SAG-AFTRA leaders on Friday approved the new tentative agreement reached this week with the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which — once ratified — will mean more than $1 billion in new wages and benefits for working actors
  • The new three-year deal, union leaders said, includes “safeguards” that control the use of generative artificial intelligence; wage increases; intimacy coordinator requirements; and increased residual pay for streaming and video-on-demand shows
  • Union president Fran Drescher called the deal a “record contract” that is just the start of a new era in the industry
  • The voting period for contract ratification begins on November 14 and ends in the first week of December

Those AI safeguards, they said, include provisions requiring artist consent and union notification whenever manufacturers use generative AI to create “synthetic artists.”

“While the gains made in these new contracts will keep the film industry viable as a profession for working-class artists, they also serve as a reminder of what can be achieved through collective action and worker solidarity,” said SAG-AFTRA Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. “What SAG-AFTRA members achieved can and should be achieved by workers across all industries.”

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To wit, Crabtree-Ireland said SAG-AFTRA members plan to “rally behind” the American Federation of Musicians and the Teamsters in their own negotiations within the industry in 2024.

SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher praised the union’s bargaining team and her partnership with Crabtree-Ireland, despite the opposition — and disinterest — from the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

The grueling negotiations, Drescher said, were tinged with sexism — that producers tried to discredit her by using her femininity and her heart-shaped stuffed animal (given to her by a little girl “to give me confidence,” she said) against her. Drescher instead held firm, saying she would lead with intellect, with wisdom and with empathy.

“I can lead and I can still rock a red lip. So I turned it on its head and gave women an opportunity to see what leadership could look like if you’re just being who you are, your authentic person without apology, ” said Drescher.

As the negotiations – and the strike – dragged on, the turning point in her mind came when she realized the contract was not the end of the road.

“I started thinking and realizing that this is an ongoing, living thing — a contract — and we’re not over, we’re only just beginning,” she said. “We have a record-breaking contract on our hands that has broken new ground and pattern again and again and again.”

That contract, which won’t go into effect until it passes a ratification vote by SAG-AFTRA members, includes a new fund that compensates artists for live-stream productions; background actor and general salary increases; terms that ensure hair and makeup services specifically for artists with different complexions and textured hair; and “informed consent and reasonable compensation” for use of digital copies of members “whether living or dead, whether created on site or licensed from a third party for use,” Crabtree-Ireland said.

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The agreement also covers performance capture work, requirements for on-set intimacy coordinators; doubled pay for dual-threat singers and dancers; increases to high-budget streaming video and on-demand residuals, as well as increases to residual caps; and more.

What it all means is that members face a contract worth more than $1 billion in new wages and benefits for the thousands upon thousands of lesser-known entertainment workers who had been struggling to make ends meet despite of sharing an industry with some of the most famous faces in the world.

The ratification voting period, Crabtree-Ireland said, is set to open Nov. 14 and end in the first week of December. Should members vote to approve the contract, it would take effect immediately, with incremental pay increases to be paid in July each of the next two years.