UPDATED July 31, 2017: After consultation with Fatna Sallak-Williams, the director of background actors in the Background Department at SAG-AFTRA in Los Angeles, I received confirmation about the nature of the photo-double rate when the photo double is also working as a stand-in on the same day under the tentative theatrical agreement discussed in detail below.
Sallak-Williams, in consultation with a manager and a director at SAG-AFTRA’s New York Local, affirmed that under Schedule X, Part 2 — which accounts for stand-ins in the New York Zone only — stand-ins who also work as photo doubles on the same day will receive a $10 adjustment in addition to their stand-in rate. This is to say that the photo double rate does not increase in the tentative agreement when the photo double is also standing in. Instead, the photo double rate remains as it is in the contract expired June 30, 2017 — a $10 adjustment.
It is with great disappointment to have to share that stand-ins asked to photo-double will not be receiving a higher adjustment under the tentative agreement if it is ratified. This is to say that the tentative agreement has an additional disappointment for stand-ins, especially working in the New York Zone. They will not benefit from the pay raise that other straight photo doubles will receive. In other words, working in the New York Zone means your work as a photo double will be undervalued when you also stand in.
Below, I have struck
like thisthe verbiage that assumed that stand-ins who photo-double on the same day would receive an adjustment higher than $10. I have added in boldface and underline updated text with the corrected tentative rates.
— The Editor
As we’ve already reported here, on July 4, 2017, SAG-AFTRA announced it had reached a tentative deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) over the collective bargaining agreement that governs the work of SAG-AFTRA’s members in “theatrical” work — i.e., movies and dramatic television.
SAG-AFTRA has since published a referendum booklet for its members to review before casting their vote for or against the ratification of the July 4th tentative agreement. The SAG-AFTRA Board of Directors approved the tentative agreement on July 15, 2017, by a margin of 77.4% to 22.5% — an approval it framed in a press release as “overwhelming” despite nearly a quarter of the board voting against approval of the tentative agreement. SAG-AFTRA also published inside the referendum booklet its recommendation for members to “VOTE YES” to ratify the tentative agreement and install it as the successor to the prior Theatrical agreement — rather than refraining from advocating a particular vote.
The referendum booklet includes a summary of the tentative agreement, preceded by two letters from SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris and SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director David White touting the gains made in this round of negotiation. The summary is the “meat” of the document, while the letters by the SAG-AFTRA officials put the meat of the document in perspective — notably, a favorable perspective about the gains the union made in the negotiation without explicitly mentioning the losses the union made in the negotiation.
Given that this is Stand-In Central, and given that stand-ins are the focus of this website, our question is: How do SAG-AFTRA stand-ins fare in this tentative agreement? We’ll cover below some of the insights gained from the referendum booklet with respect to stand-ins, to inform you whether you should vote yes or no to ratify this tentative agreement for movies and dramatic television.
First, some basics, followed by our insights.
Stand-Ins Are Fundamentally “Background Actors”
It should be noted that within the Theatrical agreement as well as this tentative agreement, stand-ins should be seen fundamentally as background actors.
In other words, on paper, stand-ins are background actors who work at the same rate as background actors — but with an adjustment added to boost their rates.
In actuality, stand-ins do different jobs than background actors on the whole, namely in that stand-ins never work on camera while background actors do work on camera. That is, stand-ins are behind-the-scenes workers while background actors work in front of the camera.
That said, wherever you read a gain for background actors in the tentative agreement, the same gain should also apply to stand-ins.
Stand-Ins Are Not “Performers”
It should also be noted that within the Theatrical agreement as well as this tentative agreement, stand-ins should not be seen as performers. The term “performer” is defined in the 2005 Basic Agreement, which serves as the foundation for the tentative agreement. On page 1, the Basic Agreement reads:
The term “performer” means those persons covered by the terms of this Agreement and includes performers, professional singers, stunt performers, airplane and helicopter pilots, dancers covered under Schedule J of this Agreement, stunt coordinators, puppeteers and body doubles. Background actors are not considered “performers.”
Note that background actors — and therefore stand-ins — are distinguished from performers within the Basic Agreement. While counterintuitive since background actors do “perform,” albeit wordlessly, the distinction between performers and background actors continues to apply in the tentative agreement.
So, where the tentative agreement speaks of “performers,” it does not mean background actors or stand-ins.
Stand-Ins Are Covered in Schedule X, Parts 1 and 2
Within the Basic Agreement as well as the tentative agreement, background actors — and therefore stand-ins — are covered within two particular sections toward the end of the Basic Agreement:
- Schedule X, Part 1, covers background actors and stand-ins specifically in the zones consisting of Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Hawaii, and Las Vegas.
- Schedule X, Part 2, covers background actors and stand-ins specifically in the zone consisting of the New York City and its surrounding area (a zone which is more clearly defined within Part 2).
This is to say that language about performers does not apply to background actors or stand-ins. Instead, Schedule X, Parts 1 and 2, are where stand-ins should look for their specific contract language and any changes to it.
What the Tentative 2017 Theatrical Agreement Says about Stand-Ins
In effect, the referendum booklet says nothing explicit about gains or losses for stand-ins within the tentative agreement.
The only explicit mentions of the term “stand-in” appear in the context of photo doubles. The tentative agreement was able to score an increase of the photo-double rate from the $10 adjustment on the background actor rate to instead a rate equal to the stand-in rate.
In other words, stand-ins and photo doubles will make the same rate should this tentative agreement be ratified. Put another away, photo doubles will get an outsized rate increase in this agreement while stand-ins will not.
What the Tentative Agreement Implies Positively for Stand-Ins
Despite no explicit mention of stand-in gains in the tentative agreement, stand-ins will achieve some gains.
The amount of your gains depends partially on where you live, as stand-ins on the West Coast (Schedule X, Part 1) will likely see more gains than stand-ins on the East Coast (Schedule X, Part 2). The amount of your gains also depends partially on the productions you work on.
Increase in Rates
All in all, stand-ins everywhere under the tentative agreement will receive a pay increase of 2.5% in the first year of the tentative agreement. While the official rates are not yet clear, by our estimates this means that stand-ins working on films and SAG-AFTRA television series will receive $193.73 for 8 hours (an increase of $4.73), and stand-ins working on AFTRA Legacy Exhibit A television series will receive $199.88 for 8 hours (an increase of $4.88). More than likely these rates will be rounded up or down.
The only exception to the 2.5% increase is for stand-ins working on CW productions “under Section 83 of the Television Agreement.” (We were unable to locate this section in a version of the Television Agreement.) Under the tentative agreement, rates and minimum conditions for stand-ins on these productions will be determined by Schedule X, Parts 1 and 2. These stand-ins’ rates will be increased to $193.73 for 8 hours or $199.88 for 8 hours depending on the type of television series — a percentage increase that depends on what stand-ins were making before on CW productions. (It is not clear to us what stand-ins were making on CW productions under Section 83 of the Television Agreement in order for us to measure their percentage increase in wages.)
Double Time for Stand-Ins on the West Coast
With respect to stand-ins working on the West Coast, they will receive double time for their work beginning with the 11th hour.
Double time has already been established for stand-ins working on the East Coast, so there is no respective gain for stand-ins on the East Coast in the tentative agreement.
UPDATED July 31, 2017:
More Money for Stand-Ins Who Also Work as Photo Doubles on the Same Day
Photo doubles under the tentative agreement will go from earning a $10 adjustment to the background actor rate to earning the same amount as stand-ins.
Essentially, this means that instead of photo doubles making approximately $176.05 for 8 hours SAG-AFTRA television series or approximately $181.18 for 8 hours on AFTRA Legacy Exhibit A television series, photo doubles will make approximately $193.73 for 8 hours or $199.88 for eight hours respectively.
When a stand-in also works as a photo double, that stand-in will see a higher adjustment for the photo-double work than in the past. In the past, stand-ins received an additional adjustment of $10 when they also photo-doubled, but under the tentative agreement stand-ins will receive an additional adjustment of approximately $27.68 or $28.71 respectively. So a stand-in who also photo doubles would make approximately $221.41 for 8 hours or approximately $228.59 for 8 hours respectively. However, the The photo double gains seem to be overstated by SAG-AFTRA in the referendum booklet. SAG-AFTRA represents that the above photo double rates reflect “an upfront increase of nearly 17%,” but the numbers do not bear out to a 17% increase. The above photo double rates reflect 12.6% and 12.9% increases respectively on the prior photo double rates of $172 and $177 for 8 hours. It is unclear what math SAG-AFTRA used to determine an increase in the photo double rates by the overstated 17%.
UPDATED July 31, 2017: The above said, if you stand-in and photo-double on the same day, you will not earn an adjustment higher than $10 under the tentative agreement. Instead, under the tentative agreement, stand-ins who photo-double on the same day will earn only a $10 adjustment. This $10 adjustment only applies to stand-ins photo-doubling in the New York Zones; stand-ins photo-doubling in the West Coast zones will see no additional adjustment for photo-doubling.
What the Tentative Agreement Implies Negatively for Stand-Ins
There are some negative implications with respect to the tentative agreement for stand-ins. If ratified by members, these implications could seal stand-ins’ fates for the next three years.
Below are some of the negative implications for stand-ins under the tentative agreement.
Possibility SAG-AFTRA Board of Directors Will Reduce Rate Increases
Given pattern bargaining over recent years, SAG-AFTRA has enjoyed predictable increases in most wages on the order of 3%. For some years SAG-AFTRA accepted a 2.5% increase in wages in exchange for an increase in pension and health funding by producers.
With the tentative agreement, SAG-AFTRA says that it achieved a 2.5% wage increase for the first year, plus 3% wage increases in the second and third years of this three-year contract. However, for both the second and third years, the SAG-AFTRA Board of Directors may approve the reduction of these rate increases from 3% to 2.5%, and direct an additional 0.5% into the pension plans in such cases.
The SAG-Producers Pension Plan‘s Annual Funding Notice for plan year 2016 put the funding percentage of the plan at 80.08% — less than a tenth of a percentage point away from “Endangered” status as defined by federal pension law. Given that, and given that funding of that pension plan has been trending downward in recent years, there is reason to believe that in the future SAG-AFTRA will try to increase the funding of the SAG-Producers Pension Plan and opt for a 2.5% increase in wages and a 0.5% increase in payments to its pension plans.
Put differently, if the SAG-AFTRA Board of Directors elects to reduce its rate increases from 3% to 2.5% in the second and/or third year, the union reaps the glory of claiming in negotiation that it achieved 3% wage increases — while opting to accept mere 2.5% wage increases.
Essentially, SAG-AFTRA did not actually gain 3% wage increases in the second and third years of the tentative agreement, but instead it gained the option to take 3% wage increases in the second and third years. This is different from being able to unquestionably negotiate for and confidently seize 3% wage increases in the second and third years of its tentative agreement. SAG-AFTRA did not decisively achieve its 3% wage increases, but conditionally achieved them.
All in all, stand-ins are left with uncertainty over their wage increases in the second and third years of this tentative agreement, with the potential threat of three consecutive years of undersized 2.5% increases in their wages.
Loss of First-Class Air Travel for Stand-Ins
As stated best in the tentative agreement:
Air travel rules allowing for coach class travel for domestic flights of less than 1,000 air miles (but including flights to Toronto or Vancouver of less than 1,000 air miles) will now apply equally to background actors working under Schedules X-I and X-II of the CBA [collective bargaining agreement] just as they presently apply to principals. Presently, first class air travel rules apply to background actors because the air travel changes negotiated in 2011 were not applied to the background schedules.
In other words, because SAG-AFTRA did not apply air travel changes in 2011 to background actors — and therefore stand-ins — they preserved the background actors’ and stand-ins’ right to first-class travel when required to fly to location. The loss of first-class travel for performers was not a loss for stand-ins — except starting with this tentative agreement if it is ratified by members.
UPDATED July 31, 2017: Stand-Ins in the New York Zone Who Also Work as Photo Doubles on the Same Day See No Gains in Their Photo-Double Adjustment
As has been past practice when working under Schedule X, Part 2, stand-ins who photo-double on the same day receive a $10 adjustment on top of their stand-in rate. However, despite photo doubles getting a raise in the tentative agreement, if those photo doubles are also standing in, they will not get a raise (except for the general 2.5% range in the first year and subsequent annual raises).
Instead, photo doubles who also stand-in will be equivalent to stand-ins who photo-double. This means that photo doubles who stand in will receive the stand-in rate plus a $10 adjustment, rather than the photo-double adjustment plus the stand-in adjustment.
Essentially, this means that instead of photo doubles who stand in making approximately $221.41 for 8 hours SAG-AFTRA television series or approximately $228.59 for 8 hours on AFTRA Legacy Exhibit A television series, photo doubles will make approximately $203.73 for 8 hours or $209.88 for eight hours respectively.
The above $10 adjustments do not apply to stand-ins who photo-double West Coast zones.
Possible Loss of Terms and Conditions in Moving from the CW Supplement to Schedule X, Part 1 or 2
While we have been unable to locate the terms and conditions of the CW Supplement, in theory, in moving productions off the CW Supplement and onto Schedule X, Parts 1 and 2, there is the potential for losses for stand-ins despite any gains.
For example, meal penalty payments may go down when the first meal penalty is incurred. However, since we have not been able to locate the CW Supplement, this claim cannot be verified.
If you have questions about the contract verbiage in the CW Supplement, and if you believe knowing that supplement is helpful in determining how you vote on the referendum, contact SAG-AFTRA for the CW Supplement.
What the Tentative Agreement Does Not Settle
Several aspects of the tentative agreement will be discussed at a future date. This would mean that any future-date meetings with respect to those aspects will be binding rather than up for ratification vote.
While little detail is provided about these aspects, the ones that could potentially affect stand-ins are these two at least:
- Late notice of call times – Sometimes when stand-ins are not in with crew and have a later call time, their call times are suddenly pulled up the same day. There is no penalty for production doing this to stand-ins. Should the stand-in be unable to make the pulled-up call time, the stand-in may lose out on booked work to a rush-called stand-in who can make the pulled-up call time. It is possible that this could be discussed when talking in the future about late notice of call times, and decisions about that could be binding if members ratify the tentative agreement.
- Proper payment of per diems and timing of per diem payments – Stand-ins working under Schedule X, Parts 1 or 2, are not guaranteed per diems, despite what might be a common and misunderstood practice when a production shoots on location and lodges overnight (known as “overnight locations”). Rather, the Basic Agreement outlines that background actors — and therefore stand-ins — are entitled to “necessary traveling expenses, meals, and lodging […] at the Producer’s expense.” In theory, this could mean that the background actor and stand-in could be guaranteed more than the per diem, especially if meals total more than the per diem for performers. When production does give stand-ins a per diem, it is unclear whether it is appropriate to give the stand-in the per diem upfront (as with performers) or on a voucher within the paycheck (essentially, an ex post facto per diem). Future discussions on proper payment of per diems and the timing of these payments to stand-ins could be binding if the tentative agreement is ratified.
Commentary on the Tentative 2017 Theatrical Agreement
What follows is some commentary in light of the release of the details the tentative Theatrical agreement. Rather than accept SAG-AFTRA’s rosy painting of its “historic” gains, the following commentary adds perspective that largely goes against that narrative — notably from the perspective of a SAG-AFTRA stand-in.
Pension Plan Problems Are Weakening SAG-AFTRA at the Bargaining Table — As Well as Stand-Ins’ Work Choices
As reported in a past article on Stand-In Central, when SAG-AFTRA merged in 2012, it did so under the pretext that the merger of its two pension plans was “eventual” and that it would be done “quickly.” However, more than five years after its merger, SAG-AFTRA has not merged its pension plans, and the tentative agreement made July 4th, 2017, does not suggest any groundwork is being laid to merge the pension plans in the next three years.
As a point of contrast, in the 2014 Theatrical negotiations, SAG-AFTRA did lay groundwork for the merger of its health plans. In its referendum booklet at the time, SAG-AFTRA outlined “a mechanism to facilitate the merger of the health plans.” The health plans eventually did merge, a process that completed on January 1, 2017.
Since the pension plans are not merged, and since the health of the SAG-Producers Pension Plan is riding just above the federally defined “Endangered” status, SAG-AFTRA has an outsized interest in its pension plan’s funding. Were the plan healthy and considerably above “Endangered” status, SAG-AFTRA’s interest in funding the SAG-Producers Pension Plan wouldn’t soak up as much of its energy at the bargaining table or threaten members’ wages.
As a result, SAG-AFTRA went into bargaining with the AMPTP in a position to accept reduced wage increases in return for funding of its pension plans. While it is impossible to say whether a quick merger of the pension plans more or less immediately after the merger of SAG and AFTRA would have yielded a healthy pension plan today, it is no doubt a burden on the union at the bargaining table to have to worry about its pension plans (as well as members’ disgruntlement over a largely broken promise to merge the pension plans) rather than seek patterned 3% wage increases — or even outsized wage increases.
For as much SAG and AFTRA touted their bargaining strength upon their merger, to achieve 2.5% wage increases below the patterned 3% wage increases does not affirm the argument that SAG-AFTRA is “stronger” as a merged union. That the union has to divert wages in order to fund its pension plans more than five years after SAG and AFTRA’s merger really shows its distraction and weakness at the bargaining table.
For stand-ins, the split earnings problem as discussed in rich detail in a prior article on Stand-In Central looks as if it will continue for another three years if the tentative agreement is ratified by SAG-AFTRA members, meaning that stand-ins interested in eligibility for one pension plan or the other may have to continue to turn down work that does not fund their preferred pension plan.
Stand-Ins Will Face Reductions in Wage Increases — Regardless Whether SAG-AFTRA’s Board Reduces Future Wage Increases
Also for stand-ins, the tentative agreement does not provide them with the outsized wage increases they enjoyed from the 2014 Theatrical Agreement.
In that agreement, stand-ins enjoyed 5% wage increases for each of the three years of the contract. Such increases in wages asserted to stand-ins their value and worth to productions, something which professional stand-ins already knew. That the wages for stand-ins under the 2014 Theatrical Agreement were compounded, stand-ins who worked regularly often found considerably better income while working long-term on a project compared to prior years. The 5% increases in the 2014 Theatrical Agreement were cause for much excitement for stand-ins.
But under the 2017 tentative agreement, stand-ins’ wage increases will drop from 5% — to 2.5% at least, to 3% at most. It could be said that the 2014 agreement helped to separate stand-ins from background actors in terms of pay only for a short period of time — that a 2017 agreement doesn’t need to continue outsizing the value of stand-ins because their value is now demonstrated by more clearly valuing them than background actors.
But for the stand-in, the halving of their wage increase in the first year of the tentative agreement, and the potential halving in the second and third years, makes for stand-in wages from year to year much less exciting. As a stand-in, why ratify a tentative agreement that deflates your yearly income increases rather than sustains them?
East Coast Stand-Ins Get Nothing Comparable to What West Coast Stand-Ins Get
At that, if you stand in on productions on the East Coast, the lack of monetary gain relative to West Coast stand-ins makes voting for the tentative agreement also a conflict of interest.
While it is great for West Coast stand-ins to receive double time upon their 11th hour of work, what did East Coast stand-ins gain also? It would seem that East Coast stand-ins gained nothing relative to West Coast stand-ins.
A stand-in on the East Coast might be inclined to vote no in the hopes of gaining something more tangible or monetary since West Coast stand-ins were able to do so.
Emails about Wages and Working Conditions Did Nothing to Help Stand-Ins
It is not as if stand-ins didn’t try to affect the negotiations.
SAG-AFTRA has a period wherein its Wages & Working Conditions Committee takes suggestions for the impending negotiations. Here are some of the known email submissions to the W&Ws as they pertain to stand-ins. None of these contentions make it into the tentative agreement:
- Clarify Holiday Pay when working around Thanksgiving and the Day after Thanksgiving – Holiday Pay is granted to a stand-in when working the day before and the day after a contractually named holiday. When it comes to working on the day before the named holiday of Thanksgiving, rarely will a stand-in work on the Day after Thanksgiving (also a named holiday). The tentative agreement does nothing to clarify whether a stand-in should achieve one or even two days of holiday pay upon returning to work on, say, the Monday after Thanksgiving. A production may argue to pay a stand-in no Holiday Pay given this loophole.
- Explain exact holiday payment when background actor works at different rates around a holiday – If a background actor works on the day before a holiday, then returns to production on the day after the holiday to work as a stand-in, it is unclear in the Basic Agreement or its subsequent modifications at what rate the actor should be paid for the holiday check — at the background actor rate, at the stand-in rate, or at some other rate? The issue is worsened if a stand-in works as a principal actor on the production on one side of the holiday — should the holiday check be at the stand-in rate, at the principal rate, or at some different rate? The tentative agreement does nothing to resolve these holes in the contract.
- Protection from b-roll and behind-the-scenes crews – In commercials, if extra performers (essentially, background actors) are present when b-roll is being shot by behind-the-scenes crews, those extra performers are entitled to a corporate-educational contract in addition to their commercial contract. But in theatrical work, if background actors and stand-ins are present when b-roll is being shot by behind-the-scenes crews, no such additional contract is triggered, despite the footage likely having similar commercial aims for the theatrical production as for the commercial production. The tentative agreement does nothing to protect stand-ins being shot for b-roll on films or dramatic television.
- Remove contradiction in stand-in classification in Schedule X, Part 2 – Schedule X, Part 2, of the Basic Agreement includes wording that is blatantly contradictory. In one passage it says stand-in work is “special ability” background actor work, which equates to a $10 adjustment on the background actor rate. But in another passage, stand-in work is distinguished from special ability background actor work, with a higher adjustment than for special ability background actors. For years the contradiction has remained in Schedule X, Part 2, and the tentative agreement continues to let the contradiction remain in the contract. Such a change to eliminate the contradiction has no economic impact for either SAG-AFTRA or the AMPTP, so why did such a change not make it into the tentative agreement?
- Protect background actors from non-compliant payroll companies – Payroll companies have the responsibility not just of sending you your paychecks when you stand in on productions, but also of remitting your taxes withheld from your paycheck to the Internal Revenue Service. Should a stand-in fall victim to a payroll company that does not remit his/her taxes to the IRS, the stand-in is essentially being denied compensation — especially if the payroll company is keeping the stand-in’s withholding tax. The tentative agreement does nothing to address grievances by stand-ins against productions that use payroll companies that do not remit the stand-in’s withholding taxes to the IRS.
- Classify drone work as hazardous work – As clarified in an extensive article on Stand-In Central, drone work is increasing on productions as the FAA grants permission for commercial photography using remotely piloted aerial cameras. Given that drones have the potential to cause serious damage and injury, and given that stand-ins may serve as “guinea pigs” in the testing of drone shots, we believe that all drone work should be classified as “hazardous” and entitle stand-ins to Hazard Pay. Nothing in the tentative agreement addresses the technology of drone photography, its inherent threats and hazards, or any additional compensation due to stand-ins working in such situations.
How to Vote on the Tentative Agreement
As you can probably guess, Stand-In Central takes the perspective that the tentative agreement offers little for stand-ins on the whole — and even offers some slights against stand-ins at that.
From the perspective of the SAG-AFTRA stand-in, your vote of no could force the union to return to the bargaining table to seek more for stand-ins. Your vote of yes may solidify some of the negatives (loss of first-class travel) as well as some of the underwhelming positives (like reduced wage increases).
No matter how you vote, if you are a full SAG-AFTRA member, Stand-In Central encourages you to cast your vote. According to the referendum booklet, ballots must be received by Monday, August 7th, 2017, by 8pm Eastern (5pm Pacific).
Ballots may be cast online or by mail. Paper ballots can be requested from Integrity Voting Systems at (844) 798-3760, up to 3pm Eastern (Noon Pacific) on Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017.
How did you vote — yes or no — on ratifying the tentative Theatrical Agreement? Do you have any additional insights into this tentative agreement? Share your vote and opinions in the comment section below!