This is a two-part post. Last week was part one, which you can find here.
— The Editor
On April 10, 2019, Stand-In Central wrote about the contents of SAG-AFTRA’s proposed 2019 Commercials Contract, which the union had recently negotiated with the Joint Policy Committee.
At press time for that post, the proposed contract was not available and wasn’t event approved by SAG-AFTRA’s board, so we posted our guesses on what the proposed 2019 Commercials Contract contained.
Eventually, SAG-AFTRA’s board approved the proposal and sent it to SAG-AFTRA members for ratification. The union provided this booklet detailing the proposal but did not disclose the memorandum of agreement to SAG-AFTRA members. Instead, the Joint Policy Committee disclosed the memorandum of agreement. It could be found here on the JPC website. (Last we checked, the JPC’s website is down.)
On May 8, 2019, the union announced that SAG-AFTRA members ratified both the 2019 Commercials Contract and the 2019 Audio Commercials Contract.
How did Stand-In Central do with our guesses? Let’s see!
[They] will get the same wage increase that others will get. [They] will be victims of lower wages on some jobs if the commercials are lower budget.
How Was Our Guess?
Spot on (but it wasn’t hard to guess).
For the record, as we mentioned in last week’s post, stand-ins received a 6% increase in wages in the 2019 Commercials Contract.
That means that, through March 31, 2022, stand-ins will earn $427.20 for 8 hours on a SAG-AFTRA commercial (Unlimited Use).
If the commercial is for 13-week use, the stand-in rate is less, at $248.00 for 8 hours.
[Perhaps] rates will be clearly tiered by budget, and perhaps members can work for less than the minimums set by the 2016 Commercials Contract.
Not really seen in the 2019 Commercials Contract.
How Was Our Guess?
We were more or less wrong, unless you consider that the Low Budget Digital Waiver will live on, providing lower budget commercials some ability to undercut the 2019 Commercials Contract terms. We mentioned the Low Budget Digital Waiver in Part 1.
SAG-AFTRA Telling Members It Must Vote Yes to Receive These Contract Gains
[…] SAG-AFTRA, should it send the tentative Commercials Contract to its members, will suggest that the gains of the agreement will not be achievable if SAG-AFTRA members don’t vote yes. The implication would be that if SAG-AFTRA members vote no instead, there will be no agreement at all, and that commercial actors will be “SOL.”
From an email sent by SAG-AFTRA on April 26, 2019, to SAG-AFTRA members:
Time is running out, and the gains negotiated for the 2019 Commercials Contracts will not go into effect unless you VOTE YES today […]
How Was Our Guess?
Spot on. SAG-AFTRA tried to manipulate its members into voting yes on the proposed 2019 Commercials Contract through scare tactics, suggesting that these gains can’t be achieved by voting no against the proposed 2019 Commercials Contract.
We are only surprised that this statement was made more or less privately over email, and not made in any public statement or press releases that we could find. (If you know of any, post them in the Comments section below.)
Ratification by SAG-AFTRA Members
[…] SAG-AFTRA members will ratify what the SAG-AFTRA National Board sends to them in terms of a proposed 2019 Commercials Contract, even if there are serious flaws for SAG-AFTRA members working in commercials now and in the future.
SAG-AFTRA members ratified what the SAG-AFTRA National Board sent to them.
How Was Our Guess?
We were right on the whole.
As for “serious flaws” in the contract, we leave that up to individual members to evaluate.
But as has been pointed out on the Twitter feed for The Acting Income Podcast about the 2019 Audio Commercials Contract, SAG-AFTRA members ratified this “gain”:
Remove section that requires work on Saturdays and Sundays to be paid at double scale.
In all of the excitement and cheer around the 2019 Commercials Contracts, voting yes on the Audio Commercials Contract proposal meant the elimination of working for twice your daily pay when you work on Saturday or Sunday.
We’re sure audio commercial actors really appreciate the yes vote by a majority of voting SAG-AFTRA members, and the halving of their minimum pay when working on the weekend. (Kidding.)
But since this is Stand-In Central, you probably will not be working on an audio commercial — at least as a stand-in.
[…] a tiny, tiny fraction of members will vote in favor of the proposed contract, and that tiny fraction will damn the rest of SAG-AFTRA members to the terms of the proposed contract for the next years to come.
Members of SAG-AFTRA today overwhelmingly voted to ratify the 2019 SAG-AFTRA Commercials Contract and the 2019 SAG-AFTRA Audio Commercials Contract. The vote was 96.85 percent in favor.
Postcards were mailed to approximately 136,000 members.
How Was Our Guess?
Despite the claims that some “overwhelming” amount of 136,000 SAG-AFTRA members voted in favor of the 2019 Commercials Contracts, the actuality is probably far bleaker. SAG-AFTRA conveniently left out how many of the 136,000 members actually voted. So we can’t validate our guess, but we’ll think for now that we were right.
As a point of comparison: In 2016, SAG-AFTRA released data on the number of SAG-AFTRA members who voted. Approximately 133,000 ballots were sent, and only 13% cast ballots. This means approximately 17,290 SAG-AFTRA members voted on the 2016 Commercials Contract. Of those 17,290 members, 92.25% reportedly voted in favor (i.e., voted yes), so ~15,950 voted yes and ~1,340 voted no.
For 2019, SAG-AFTRA did not release data on the number of SAG-AFTRA members who voted. Approximately 136,000 ballots were sent. The union said 96.85% voted in favor, but how many of those 136,000 members actually cast a ballot?
While this stat hasn’t been verified or clarified, according to a tweet by SAG-AFTRA National Board member Patricia Richardson, “only 15%” voted:
And only 15% of members voted
— Patricia Richardson (@prichardsonla) May 9, 2019
If this 15% stat is of those SAG-AFTRA members who cast ballots, then approximately 20,400 SAG-AFTRA members cast ballots. 96.85% voted in favor, meaning ~19,754 SAG-AFTRA members voted yes, with only ~646 voting no.
Fifteen percent of voting members — approximately 19,754 SAG-AFTRA members — is a small amount of SAG-AFTRA members influencing the contract for all members.
While we didn’t have a guess on what percentage of SAG-AFTRA members were going to vote, our mind was in the 15%-18% range given past voting trends, and in ignorance that 13% voted in 2016.
That said, assuming that 15% of 136,000 SAG-AFTRA members voted on the 2019 Commercials Contracts, the surprise for us was in just how few members apparently voted no (~646 members).
When considering it only takes a majority over the no votes in order for a SAG-AFTRA contract to be ratified, it seems to have taken only ~647 yes votes in order to ratify the 2019 SAG-AFTRA Commercials Contracts for all SAG-AFTRA members.
647 votes is only ~0.4% of SAG-AFTRA’s membership. That’s far less than 1% of SAG-AFTRA members. So, far less than 1% of SAG-AFTRA members needed to vote yes in order for the 2019 SAG-AFTRA Commercials Contracts to be ratified.
That reality puts a whole new spin on SAG-AFTRA’s claim in its press release, “Members of SAG-AFTRA today overwhelmingly voted to ratify […]” The overwhelm is in proportion of yes votes to no votes, not in the actual voter turnout — which was reportedly so underwhelming as to be demoralizing, and unworthy of mentioning in the press release.
Lastly, given that most SAG-AFTRA contract referenda pass with over 90% support and the union telling its members to vote yes, is contract ratification really “overwhelming” anymore, or is it merely expected?
(Of course, it’s expected.)
Guessing is a fun challenge, and if you have a sense of history, you might be rewarded with some accurate guesses from time to time.
While this was a fun exercise, it was also a cynical and sad one. Many of the guesses about SAG-AFTRA’s gains, behavior, and marketing propaganda around the 2019 Commercials Contract were rooted in a pessimism about the union’s activities and good faith representations to SAG-AFTRA members.
Of course, there is a lot of material that is blatantly good faith and unobjectionable provided by the union. Plus, supposedly there is much to trumpet about this contract, notably the work involved to get to something as “innovative” as this one.
But just as one has a right to champion the gains of a contract, one has a right to deride its losses, and even criticize the union for what it “achieved” and for what it tells its voters. Those more or less negative, destructive activities may seem like tearing down SAG-AFTRA, but they are constructive, aimed at strengthening the union, holding it to account, and holding it to a higher standard. A bodybuilder works to weakness and muscle failure in order to get stronger.
All ways, positive and negative, hopefully lead to a more educated union membership — a union membership more thoughtful, careful, and informed, and a union membership more assertive in naming its leaders or dethroning them.
And if SAG-AFTRA membership can’t achieve that level of enlightenment, then hopefully those stand-ins who follow Stand-In Central can.
If there’s one thing to remember when reading what SAG-AFTRA writes to you, it’s this:
It’s nice to look at roses, but one must never forget their thorns.
Thoughts? Corrections? Post your responses in the comments section below!