This post has been updated from its original posting.
— The Editor
In 2012, the SAG and AFTRA unions merged to become SAG-AFTRA. At the time, there was discussion about the eventual merger of the SAG Pension & Health and AFTRA Health & Retirement plans, but as of February 2016 (nearly four years later), the plans have not merged.
While you may be standing in on a SAG-AFTRA job, some SAG-AFTRA jobs are SAG jobs, and other SAG-AFTRA jobs are AFTRA jobs. In other words, some union stand-in jobs pay into the SAG Pension & Health Plan while other union stand-in jobs pay into the AFTRA Health & Retirement Plan.
If you are interested in earning a pension and earning health insurance through union stand-in work — and namely, if you are interested in SAG’s plan more than AFTRA’s plan, or vice versa — it may become vitally important to consider the stand-in jobs you take, so that you don’t disqualify yourself from the pension and health insurance you want.
Use the following post to help you figure out whether a project you are asked to stand in on pays into the plan whose pension and health insurance benefits you want. Also use this post to consider the implications of taking a SAG stand-in job or an AFTRA stand-in job.
First, a Note about Two Types of Television …
Herein, we will talk about television — but there are two types of television programming that generally exist. There is dramatic programming, and there is non-dramatic programming.
“Dramatic programming” refers to those television shows that have characters involved in a story arc. Think Law & Order and you’re bringing to mind an example of dramatic programming. The term “dramatic programming” doesn’t simply refer to dramas, though. It may also refer to comedies because those shows also involve characters in a story arc.
“Non-dramatic programming” refers to other types of television shows that generally don’t involve characters in a story arc. Interview shows, talk shows, variety shows, award shows, etc., tend to fall under the heading of “non-dramatic programming.”
Union stand-ins working on dramatic programming tend to work under what are termed “SAG-AFTRA Theatrical” contracts (which also cover films), while union stand-ins working on non-dramatic programming tend to work under what are termed “SAG-AFTRA Television” contracts. (Admittedly, the terminology is confusing!)
In terms of pay (as of February 2016), the minimum rates can be quite different in each kind of television. Union stand-ins for dramatic programming can make $180/8 hours or $186/8 hours, depending on the contract. Union stand-ins for non-dramatic programming can make $25/hour.
For purposes of this post, we will focus on stand-ins working on dramatic television.
Which Stand-In Jobs Pay into Which Plans
If you are working on a film, there is little confusion what plan your stand-in work will pay into. Stand-in work on films pays into SAG P&H.
But there is little superficial logic to which plans SAG-AFTRA dramatic television jobs pay into.
When SAG-AFTRA renegotiated its last theatrical contract in 2014, the allocation of which jobs paid into SAG P&H and AFTRA H&R was made in the interest in assuring the financial health of each plan. Using a “Target Ratio,” the contract laid out that 57% of producer contributions would benefit SAG P&H and 43% would benefit AFTRA H&R. According to the 2014 TV/Theatricals Contracts Referendum Booklet, this ratio represented “the ratio of contributions for work done under the applicable collective bargaining agreements over the past five (5) years.”
So, some dramatic television pays into SAG P&H and other dramatic television pays into AFTRA H&R. Also, there are exceptions to the allocation rules if the production is old enough.
Here is how dramatic television stand-in jobs are divided in terms of SAG P&H and AFTRA H&R.
SAG Pension & Health Jobs
If a television production began on or after (approximately) August 30, 2014, it pays into SAG P&H if it is this kind of television production:
- 1-hour television motion picture made for network
- ½-hour television motion picture made for basic cable
- Television motion picture made for syndication (other than The CW)
- Television motion picture made for New Media
- Television motion picture made for pay television
- Television motion picture made for home video (or DVD)
Note that if the television production began before August 30, 2014, then it may pay into SAG P&H — or it may not because it is “grandfathered.” (Read below for information on “grandfathered” television jobs.)
Here are some key points to remember from this list:
- If a television project is New Media, then it pays into SAG P&H.
- If a television show is made for pay television networks like HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax, then it pays into SAG P&H.
- If a television show has been around since before August 30, 2014, then it may or may not pay into SAG P&H.
AFTRA Health & Retirement Jobs
If a television production began on or after (approximately) August 30, 2014, it pays into AFTRA H&R if it is this kind of television production:
- ½-hour television motion picture made for network
- 1-hour television motion picture made for basic cable
- Long-form television motion picture
- Television motion picture made for The CW
Note that if the television production began before August 30, 2014, then it may pay into AFTRA H&R — or it may not because it is “grandfathered.” (Read below for information on “grandfathered” television jobs.)
Here are some key points to remember from this list:
- If a television project is for The CW, then it pays into AFTRA H&R.
- If a television show has been around since before August 30, 2014, then it may or may not pay into AFTRA H&R.
“Grandfathered” Television Jobs
If a television production is older, then it may pay into SAG P&H or AFTRA H&R inconsistent with the rules above.
Per the 2014 Theatrical contract, if a dramatic television project commenced production prior to (approximately) August 30, 2014, it may continue to pay into its original plan, even if the 2014 agreement designates it would pay into the other plan.
In other words, if a current television project was already in production before August 30, 2014, then the plan it pays into may be different than what a younger but similar project would pay into.
However, if the television project began production on (approximately) August 30, 2014, or after, then the production is not “grandfathered,” and the aforementioned allocations apply.
Obviously, if you don’t know much about the project, it is not as easy to figure out whether a new television series pays into SAG P&H or AFTRA H&R.
While hour-long series for network pay into SAG P&H and hour-long series for basic cable paying into AFTRA H&R, the opposite is true for ½-hour series. Remembering that on the fly when agreeing to stand-in work can be understandably difficult.
If you need to inquire with casting, you should ask what network the television series is on (or, similarly, whether it is network, basic cable, or pay television — or something else entirely). You should also ask the length of an episode (usually, ½-hour or 1-hour).
Using that information, you generally should be able to figure out on your own using the above criteria whether a project pays into SAG P&H or AFTRA H&R.
Call the Union If You Have Questions
While casting directors should correctly advertise in their breakdowns and postings whether a production is a SAG project or an AFTRA project, there has been enough history of casting directors’ misrepresenting which plan a stand-in job pays into that it is worth consulting the production listings on the SAG-AFTRA website — or, even better, calling your SAG-AFTRA local’s Theatrical Department — to confirm which plan the production pays into.
Taking a long-term stand-in job believing from casting that it pays into SAG P&H, only to find after accepting and beginning work that it pays into AFTRA H&R, can be troubling for a stand-in. The union should be the most authoritative resource (more authoritative than casting directors) for explaining whether a SAG-AFTRA job is a SAG job or an AFTRA job.
Why It May Matter What Plan Your Stand-In Job Pays Into
If you are trying to become vested specifically in SAG P&H’s pension plan, or if you specifically want SAG P&H’s health insurance, you want to earn a sizable amount of money on SAG projects to become eligible for its pension and health insurance benefits. Or, via alternate eligibility, you want to work a sizable number of days on SAG projects to become eligible for its pension and health benefits. (The eligibility requirements are on the SAG Pension & Health website.)
If you take an AFTRA stand-in job that works nearly five days a week for an extended period of time while also trying to pursue SAG P&H eligibility, you may find that your days are taken up with AFTRA work, making it more difficult and desperate to find SAG jobs throughout the year to achieve your SAG eligibility. For example:
- You may find you are late in your SAG eligibility term, making it next to impossible to accept enough SAG stand-in work because you are largely booked out through your eligibility term on AFTRA stand-in work.
- You may find you end up qualifying only for AFTRA’s health insurance, which some members believe is inferior to SAG’s health insurance.
- You may find that you can’t quality for a SAG pension credit, interrupting your quest to become vested over five consecutive qualifying years.
Older AFTRA stand-in jobs often pay slightly more than SAG stand-in jobs, so in terms of earning, you may stand to earn more money on AFTRA stand-in jobs should they work you long hours and many days. But the temptation of earning more on older AFTRA jobs may leave you scrambling to find SAG work in the remainder of your qualifying period for SAG P&H.
Another point to consider is whether to take any stand-in work that pays into a plan you’re not interested in. For example, if you are only interested in SAG paychecks, then every time you work on an AFTRA job, the producer makes a contribution to your AFTRA H&R. But if you don’t work enough in the year to become eligible for AFTRA H&R that period, you may never see those producer contributions.
Ideally, you would work enough stand-in jobs in the year that you would qualify for both SAG P&H and AFTRA H&R. If you lock in two long-term projects — one SAG, one AFTRA — you may have a decent chance to meet each plan’s eligibility. Or, if you hustle, you may meet each plan’s eligibility. And while there is currently the chance to qualify for SAG’s health insurance via combined income from SAG and AFTRA jobs, that may not be ideal if your interest is, say, in retaining your AFTRA health insurance.
Each stand-in’s situation is different, so there is no hard and fast advice on whether to take — or not to take — SAG or AFTRA stand-in work.
However, given that four years after the merger of the unions has not produced a merged plan, stand-ins continue to have to make difficult decisions turning down long-term stand-in work and sizable paychecks because the jobs do not pay into the pension and health plan the stand-in is focused on.
Whether the plans will merge soon — or ever — is still unknown. Given that, keep in mind the above as you accept stand-in work. Obviously, not all stand-in jobs are merely paychecks — your choice of them may affect your financial future.
Do you have any other thoughts on choosing SAG or AFTRA stand-in work? Do you have insights into the status of a health and pension plan merger? Share your insights below!