On 7 August 2017, members of SAG-AFTRA voted overwhelmingly to approve the latest TV/Theatrical Contracts agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. This agreement offers improved terms across a variety of different subjects, including on a number of issues which SAG-AFTRA had tried and failed to make progress on in multiple attempts over decades. The new terms became effective on 1 July 2017 and will terminate on 30 June 2020, with a number of the new benefits accruing at milestones within this term.
Below are some of the key highlights achieved by the agreement.
Minimum wage and pension
The deal sees minimum wage rates increase by 2.5% from 1 July 2017, and additional (compounded) increases of 3% on both 1 July 2018 and 1 July 2019. The increases in 2018 and 2019 may be reduced to 2.5% each year but only if the union opts to increase the SAG Pension Plan and AFTRA Retirement Fund by 0.5% in either or both of these years. This is separate from the 0.5% increase in these pension plans which took effect on 1 July 2017.
For flat deal stunt coordinators working in television (under Schedule K-III to agreement) the deal has been even more beneficial, as they received a 2017 increase of 7.5%, and they will still receive the same increases in 2018 and 2019 as received by other types of members.
Residual for content for video-on-demand platforms
With the dramatic rise in content made for video-on-demand platforms such as Netflix and Amazon, potentially the most significant improvements coming out of this deal are those regarding residuals received by members for performing in such content.
The improvements see a 225% increase in residuals for performers within the first two years of domestic exhibition of their performances on Netflix and a nearly 340% increase for worldwide exhibition. The improvements are spread across a number of new additions, such as an additional first-year residual payment, a new foreign residual and increases to the caps used to calculate these residuals. Perhaps most interestingly, a 'subscriber factor' has been introduced which provides for increased residuals based on the size of the platform, including programs made for the largest platforms such as Netflix and Amazon.
Additional increases in the residuals owed where networks choose to stream a program online after the initial free-streaming window were also agreed.
Travel rules for television
Amendments to the language concerning travel for performers in television (only) have also been welcomed. The previous agreement contained ambiguous contract language that resulted in inconsistent application and members missing out on benefits they were entitled to. By way of example, through a lack of defined minimums, television series regulars were often forced to accept travel rates that were far too low.
The agreement now prescribes very specific minimums for a variety of circumstances, including relocation allowances, entitlements for overnight location expenses and travelling to the 'producer's base' (being the geographic area where the majority of principal photography takes place during a season of a television series).
Option period limits for series actors
Finally, SAG-AFTRA members requested relief in respect of option periods for series exclusivity. In the past, performers will have seen themselves held to exclusivity periods that could be extended for as long as two years through uncompensated option extensions. Such exclusivity arrangements, which were originally intended for 22-episode series orders, have been frequently used on orders as small as six to ten episode seasons.
The agreement has sought to address these issues by requiring that for television performers earning less than $32,000 per episode, a producer must exercise an option within one year of the last day of principal photography and may only extend an option twice, for up to six months per extension. Each extension will also trigger a payment of the performer's prior season negotiated episodic fee. Significantly, such fees will no longer be recoupable from subsequent compensation owed to a performer.
Overall, it appears the agreement has addressed a number of member's concerns. SAG-AFTRA President, Gabrielle Carteris has described the deal as "a forward-looking package with meaningful gains across our entire membership". The union estimates that the new deal will generate an additional $256 million over the life of the agreement.
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