This post is part of Stand-In Central’s deep-dive series into the coronavirus pandemic as it relates to stand-in work in TV and film. For more posts in the long-running series, visit https://standincentral.com/coronavirus.
— The Editor
The TV/Theatrical Agreement under which most SAG-AFTRA stand-ins work expired on June 30, 2020.
Before its expiry, SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP negotiated a tentative successor agreement. They negotiated during the coronavirus pandemic for approximately six weeks.
Despite six weeks of negotiation, not one gain specifically had to do with stand-ins.
At that, the gains stand-ins made in general were so little and so vague, analysis of SAG-AFTRA’s referendum booklet persuaded Stand-In Central to strongly encourage stand-ins to vote, and to vote NO on SAG-AFTRA’s tentative TV/Theatrical Agreement.
In the event that a majority of member votes are No votes, then the tentative agreement would not be ratified. Then, SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP would have to resume negotiations to get a better deal for members. In such an event, SAG-AFTRA presumably would have to achieve a deal good enough that members would ratify it on a second attempt.
Here is a brief analysis of the published facets of the tentative agreement so you can see why Stand-In Central strongly encourages stand-ins to vote No on SAG-AFTRA’s tentative TV/Theatrical Agreement.
What Stand-Ins Gained Specifically
Therefore, stand-ins did not gain anything specifically unique to their jobs in this tentative agreement.
The term of this tentative agreement is three years. So, if a majority of SAG-AFTRA members ratify this tentative agreement, stand-ins won’t see a next opportunity to see gains unique to their jobs until after June 30, 2023.
What Stand-Ins Gained Generally
Under the TV/Theatrical Agreement, stand-ins are fundamentally seen as background actors, so in general, if a background actor gets something, so too would a stand-in.
Wage Increases of 2.5% (and Unlikely 3% in Years Two and Three)
According to the referendum booklet, these are the wage increases background actors (and in effect, stand-ins) would expect to see over the three-year period of this tentative agreement:
Minimums shall increase by 2.5% effective July 1, 2020, by another 3% effective July 1, 2021 and by another 3% effective July 1, 2022. These increases shall be compounded. [The] National Board shall have the option to redirect .5% of the second and/or third year wage increases to the benefit fund contribution rates, in which case minimums shall increase by 2.5% in the second and/or third years.
If you simply gloss over this passage, it would seem as if you would get a 2.5% wage increase this year, then a 3% increase next year, then a 3% increase the year after that. That would be inaccurate.
Instead, under this tentative agreement, you get would a 2.5% increase each year. There are two exceptions:
- The first exception is that, in year two, SAG-AFTRA can choose to give you a 3% increase instead of a 2.5% increase. If it did that, it would give you more money in your paycheck rather than direct 0.5% of your wage increase into the benefit plans (the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan, the SAG Pension Plan, and the AFTRA Retirement Fund).
- The second exception is that in year three, it’s the same deal. SAG-AFTRA can opt to give you a 3% increase and not fund the benefit plans a little more.
It should be noted that this is the same wage-increase scheme SAG-AFTRA struck in 2017. In that year, they gained 2.5% increases per year, but SAG-AFTRA in years two and three could opt to give you a 3% increase and not divert money into the benefit plans. But guess what? SAG-AFTRA in both the second and third year of the prior contract chose to give money to the benefit plans rather than to put it into 3% wage increases. And SAG-AFTRA did so quietly, without any announcement that they were choosing 2.5% wage increases each of those years.
Given whatever strain the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan is facing in light of the coronavirus pandemic, and given the funding crises that both pension plans are facing (they are both in Endangered status aside from a special rule that permits them not to declare that), it would be a safe bet that SAG-AFTRA in years two and three of this tentative agreement would not opt to give members 3% wages, and instead would give members just their 2.5% increase and divert 0.5% into the benefit plans.
What this contract gain appears to be is a charade. By dangling the possibility of a 3% wage increase, SAG-AFTRA wants to mislead you that it has decisively gained more than 2.5% wage increases in years two and three. Instead, they only got you 2.5% wage increases in those years, and conditionally they got you 3% wage increases. But the bet would be that the 3% increases are unlikely given the need to fund the strained benefit plans.
The argument also typically goes that inflation is 3%, so a wage increase at or below 3% does not keep up with inflation. Stand-In Central can’t speak to that argument (here is some inflation data that seems to dispute 3% inflation and also show the pandemic has reduced inflation), but facially, for as strong as SAG-AFTRA purports itself to be, and as professional it purports its members to be, one might reasonably agree that a 2.5% increase for professionals working under the TV/Theatrical Agreement, many of whom made less than $22/hour under the prior contract, 2.5% wage increases are flaccid gains.
If you’re a stand-in who doesn’t qualify for health insurance or pension credits, this deal likely means SAG-AFTRA is going to choose to fund its benefit plans (for which you don’t qualify) instead of giving you a higher wage.
What Would the Wage Increases Actually Look like for Stand-Ins?
For some perspective, the prior rate for stand-ins under this contract was $204 for 8 hours. (Stand-ins on older, long-running AFTRA shows made a little more but we’ll ignore those rates for now.)
- A 2.5% increase would be approximately $209/8 for year one.
- In year two, a 2.5% increase would be about $214/8, and a 3% increase would be about $215. SAG-AFTRA would choose which you would get.
- What you make in year three depends on the year two rate, plus how SAG-AFTRA decides what kind of wage increase it wants you to get in year three. But whatever the choice in year two and year three, year three’s rate for stand-ins under this tentative agreement would end up around $220-$221 for 8 hours.
In terms of your hourly rate, the prior rate for stand-ins under this contract was $25.50/hour with an 8-hour minimum.
- In year one it would be about $26.13/hour.
- In year two, a 2.5% increase would be about $26.75/hour. A 3% increase would be around $26.88/hour.
- In year three, the stand-in rate would be around $27.50/hour.
So, as it would seem, your hourly rate as a stand-in over the course of this tentative agreement would maybe go up a dollar each year, but probably not. By the end of this tentative agreement, you might see a $2 increase in your hourly wage from the prior contract’s 2020 rate.
More Funding for the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan
According to the referendum booklet, producers will contribute 1% more to your health plan. The booklet explains:
The contribution rate to the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan shall increase by 1% effective July 1, 2020, increasing the total benefit fund contribution rate (exclusive of contributions to the Industry Advancement and Cooperative Fund, which have not changed) from 18.5% to 19.5% […]
… then the booklet goes into a little more detail about that increase in contribution to the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan.
There is probably nothing to argue for or against this. Producers paying more money into the health plan is a good gain.
The issue is when, as just described, SAG-AFTRA takes money out of wage increases that the producers would pay to you, and instead pays that money to the health plan. If you don’t typically qualify for insurance under the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan, this likely feels like taking money out of your pocket and giving it to someone else you don’t know.
What Stand-Ins Gained Vaguely
“Sex Act” Protection
Background actors gained some protections when working in the nude and when performing simulated sex acts. So, it would seem by default stand-ins also gained those same protections.
But that angle is not nailed down explicitly in the tentative agreement, meaning SAG-AFTRA rendered stand-ins ripe for exploitation yet again with this tentative agreement.
That is, while pure background actors might gain these protections in nude work and simulated sex acts, it would surprise no one who works as a stand-in that stand-ins and their needs for sex-act protection would go forgotten.
Without explicit language emphasizing that these tentative terms apply to stand-ins, SAG-AFTRA leaves stand-ins vulnerable yet again.
Here are the specific protections and ways in which they are vague for stand-ins.
Right to a Day’s Pay When Not Given Advance Notification of Performance of Sex Acts
The tentative agreement introduces new conditions around not just nudity but also around what are termed “sex acts.”
Background actors — as well as apparently stand-ins — gain this protection under the tentative agreement:
[The] right of a background actor to refuse to engage in a performance requiring nudity if they are not notified in advance and still be paid for the day now includes “sex acts.” This ensures that a background actor who is not notified in advance that the performance requires a simulated sex act may refuse and still be paid for the day even if the simulated sex act is to be performed while clothed.
What this passage means for stand-ins is, if you are standing in in a scene that involves the performance of a simulated sex act, and if you are not notified in advance, you can still be paid for the day. This applies no matter whether the stand-in has to depict the sex act clothed — or in rare cases less-than-clothed. (It is extremely rare for stand-ins to work naked.)
Where this language is vague is, “What constitutes notification in advance?” Does casting have to tell you this information? Or if you report to work and five minutes before your scene an AD says you’re standing in in a sex scene, does that constitute “notification in advance”? Probably the former is “notification in advance’ and the latter is not “notification in advance” but instead “notification on the day.”
But whatever the case, the language helps to protect stand-ins from the all-too-often awkward situation of showing up on set and having, unbeknownst to them, stand-in work in a sex scene, especially with a total stranger among a crew of total strangers.
Prior Written Consent
Background actors — and stand-ins it would seem — also gained this protection under the tentative agreement:
Prior written consent is required for still photography during performances involving nudity and/or simulated sex and unused still photographs must be securely stored.
Now, this is vague because stand-ins don’t perform in the same way that background actors perform. At most, stand-ins rehearse. Whether a stand-in is protected from still photography during camera setup and rehearsals of nude scenes and simulated sex acts is unclear. Would a production get prior written consent from stand-ins to stand in in a sex act? It would seem that prior written consent is required.
But what’s troubling is that while any still photographs must be securely stored, there is no outline of damages in the event that this protection is violated.
Say that a stand-in did not give prior written consent, stood in in a simulated sex act, and was photographed by the on-set still photographer doing so? What recompense does the tentative agreement provide? It would seem production would only get a slap on the wrist or have to talk to SAG-AFTRA about it, but the damage to the stand-in would already be done, with no collectively bargained compensation for such damages.
No Guarantee of 48-Hour Notification That Principal Actors Would Get
Under the tentative agreement, principal performers and background actors/stand-ins working in the nude or working in “sex acts” do not get the same treatment. It should make a stand-in pause to think about the weight of these gains in sex acts. Why would principal actors get protections around nudity and sex acts that background actors and stand-ins would not also get, especially considering the gravity and vulnerability of the work?
The main difference is that principal actors get 48-hour notification if they are doing nude work or simulated sex acts, and background actors (and stand-ins?) might possibly get 48-hour notification if they are are doing nude work or simulated sex acts.
The referendum booklet actually puts it this way:
“As Much Information as Possible” Prior to Booking: The principal performer requirements related to auditions/interviews and the 48-hour notice requirement were not incorporated into the background actor schedules. The AMPTP, however, will send a bulletin to background casting agencies, who often function as the employer of record for background actors, directing them to obtain as much information as possible from the producer regarding any required nudity and/or simulated sex acts and provide that information to the background actor prior to booking.
It should be clearly noted that the onus is not put on production to inform the background actors and stand-ins, but instead, the onus is put on background casting agencies to ask the producer for information about required nudity or simulated sex acts. This is wholly backward, especially considering that if a background casting agency does not know that a scene will involve nudity or simulated sex acts, then the background casting agency won’t be in a position to ask.
Granted, background casting agencies are involved in some production meetings, but it would surprise no stand-in that background casting agencies would focus on the interests of pure background actors involved in nude or simulated sex-act work and completely forget about the interests of the stand-ins who might also be involved in the production of that scene.
Given the long history well documented on Stand-In Central that background casting directors often neglect to inform stand-ins of work conditions that they do tell background actors, stand-ins would probably expect to be harmed by this vague gain in the tentative agreement.
Instead, the onus should be put on production to provide that information to background casting directors, and for production to be more thoughtful of the ramifications of hiring background actors and stand-ins for nudity and simulated sex acts. Instead, SAG-AFTRA is lying down and permitting background actors and stand-ins to be an afterthought by only obligating production to provide “as much information as possible prior to booking.”
Coupled with a lack of 48-hour notification requirement also for background actors and stand-ins, that cements the notion that background actors and stand-ins as workers are not seen by SAG-AFTRA as worthy of this kind of important information in advance of very vulnerable work. The vagueness of providing stand-ins with “as much information as possible prior to booking” means a production can plead that it did provide the stand-in with as much information “as possible,” and it would be largely up to the stand-in to dispute that fact.
But even if the stand-in is able to dispute a failure to provide notification with “as much information as possible” about stand-in work that involved nudity or simulated sex acts, there are no damages awarded in this tentative agreement to stand-ins who are so victimized.
What Others Gained … But Not Stand-Ins
In this tentative agreement, SAG-AFTRA trumpets the gains actors made in residuals. Being that stand-ins don’t make residuals for the work they perform, the residuals gains mean nothing for stand-ins.
SAG-AFTRA touting those gains is like the union celebrating a holiday that stand-ins do not observe.
There is no clear reason why stand-ins should be excited about the gains in residuals this tentative agreement announces so proudly — unless that stand-in is also an actor who would get residuals (and assuming that those residual gains are appealing).
In fact, the union’s gain in residuals creates a “What about me?” scenario for stand-ins.
Given that there are so many apparent gains in residuals (“money in the future”) but comparatively dismal gains in wages (“money in the pocket”), and given that this tentative agreement never explicitly mentions stand-ins, stand-ins understandably wonder whether some of those residuals gains could have been rolled back by SAG-AFTRA and fed into wages, namely stand-in wages, to make stand-ins feel more included in the gains.
Of course, a rebuttal could be to a complaining stand-ins to “think of the big picture” and to “think about what the actors gain.” But without comparable explicit gains for stand-ins in this tentative agreement, these gains seem overly weighted on the actors for whom stand-ins stand in.
Stand-ins make about five times less than actors working at minimum rates, and stand-ins make comparatively much less than actors with deals negotiated at higher rates (including “movie stars” and other higher profile performers). So while generally actors make five times or more than their stand-ins, actors also earn additional money in residuals. A stand-in is supposed to celebrate this tentative agreement … how?
Offenses of This Tentative Agreement
Be it known that harassment training, in principle, is a wonderful thing. In New York State, harassment training is the obligation of the employer. According to a New York State website:
Every employer in New York State is required to provide employees with sexual harassment prevention training.
This tentative agreement has SAG-AFTRA removing the obligation of producers (as the employer) to provide employees (like stand-ins) with sexual harassment prevention training, and instead, substitute that obligation with a centralized harassment training program. According to the referendum booklet:
Harassment Prevention Training: The harassment prevention training requirement that was negotiated for stunt coordinators in 2017 has been expanded to include performers and background actors. The training shall continue to be provided through CSATF with implementation to be discussed by the parties. This operates as a convenience to members as the training is mandated by law in several states and would otherwise have to be completed on a production-by-production basis instead of completing it once through a centralized program.
The importance of production-by-production harassment training is that it is the best way that a production can mitigate liabilities specific to their production. In order to limit those liabilities, productions are not advised to delegate to background casting agencies or even labor unions the responsibility to handle harassment training. To that point, New York State’s website clearly states:
Q5. What are the obligations of employment agencies? What about employees who received the same training from another employer within the past year?
A5. The law requires that employers provide a sexual harassment prevention policy and training on an annual basis to all employees. An employer may choose to deem the training requirement satisfied if a new employee can verify completion through a previous employer or through a temporary help firm [temporary agency].
An agency or any other worker organization (e.g. labor union) may choose to provide training to workers, however, the employer may still be liable for the employee’s conduct and understanding of policies and should train the employee on any nuances and processes specific to the company or industry.
According to the New York State website, a labor union (for example, SAG-AFTRA) may choose to provide harassment training to workers. The tentative agreement’s language only speaks to training being provided by CSATF — but not how the training will be implemented.
Past anecdotal experience in New York State has shown how little the entertainment industry as a whole has adequately applied these laws to background actors and stand-ins. For one, SAG-AFTRA has not taken the charge to provide harassment training to background actors and stand-ins that would meet New York State’s training requirements.
Experience over the past year demonstrates only one background actor casting agency in the New York City area requiring sexual harassment training, meaning there remains coverage issues and lack of compliance with New York State law. Anecdotally, this is a snapshot of the current state of background actor/stand-in anti-harassment training at least in New York City:
- A background actor casting agency, which is only a nominal employer for background actors and stand-ins, required harassment training of those on its rolls, and paid one hour at minimum wage for taking the training.
- There did not appear to be a way out of this required harassment training, even if, as New York State allows, the background actor or stand-in can verify completion through a previous employer or other casting office.
- No other background actor casting offices seemed to handle sexual harassment training for stand-ins, meaning that for jobs not going through the above background casting office, those background actors and stand-ins were without harassment training specific to those productions (meaning the employer was potentially in violation of the law and at greater risk for liability).
- One union production hosted sexual harassment training for its crew members, but the calltime for the production’s stand-ins was at the end time for the sexual harassment training. The production inexplicably excluded stand-ins (arguably, part of the crew) from sexual harassment training, meaning that they we comparatively vulnerable on the job through such exclusion. (The background casting office did not provide harassment training either.)
So, this tentative agreement is offensive in what it might bring down on stand-ins because it would remove a more helpful production-specific mandate to provide harassment training (which if in New York would also help the production to be compliant with state law). Without implementation clarified, the tentative agreement might also make more difficult receipt of payment for the training. To that point, the fear may be unwarranted because CSATF says:
Will I receive a stipend for these classes?
Eligible industry employees who are not “on company time” — meaning they are not being paid by their industry employer for the time spent attending the class — may be able to receive a stipend for each hour of classification-specific training attended. Individuals taking online courses are asked to confirm whether they are being paid by their industry employer for the time spent taking the course during the enrollment process. For in-person courses, individuals are asked to confirm stipend eligibility at the time of check-in.
While it seems a stipend would be paid for the hour of taking the harassment training, the implementation in the tentative agreement does not spell that out or resolve who will pay stand-ins taking the harassment training.
Paid Sick Leave Waivers
We are in a global coronavirus pandemic. Cases are rising. SAG-AFTRA is pushing actors to go without masks when on camera. But irreconcilably SAG-AFTRA in this tentative agreement wants to continue its inexplicable practice of waiving paid sick leave laws where possible.
The referendum booklet says:
Many jurisdictions across the country have adopted laws requiring employers to provide paid sick leave to employees who work regularly enough to trigger the requirements of the law. Some of these laws allow for the requirement of paid sick leave to be waived in a collective bargaining agreement. Since 2014, the union has agreed, as have the other Industry unions, to waive the application of these laws where such waivers are possible. The list of waived ordinances was updated in this cycle to include paid sick leave ordinances that have been enacted in the past three years.
If you read this not even closely, you see that SAG-AFTRA is waiving paid sick leave laws. Furthermore, to support this choice, it says essentially, “Other unions are doing it, too.” Arguably, SAG-AFTRA is doing this because it knows how bad this waiver of paid sick leave laws looks for them.
As for New York State’s paid sick leave law, a new one goes into effect on September 30, 2020. But it would seem if SAG-AFTRA members ratify this tentative agreement before that date, such law will not apply to covered work. Stand-In Central can’t say for sure. This is how it’s put on this website:
Employers who enter into collective bargaining agreements on or after the effective date of this law must provide benefits comparable to those provided under the law. These agreements must specifically acknowledge the provisions of the law.
It should be clear from the points above that serious consideration of a No vote on this tentative TV/Theatrical Agreement is warranted for stand-ins. A majority of SAG-AFTRA members voting no on this tentative agreement would mean that SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP, by law, must go back into negotiations to try again, to see if they can strike a deal that SAG-AFTRA members would ratify.
All said, Stand-In Central remains pessimistic. SAG-AFTRA has included in its referendum booklet, as it typically does, explicit encouragement to “Vote Yes” on this tentative agreement. Taking into consideration past contract votes, the explicit advice to “Vote Yes” will help the union get the >50% of the voting members to ratify it, and the above gains and offenses should be locked in for three years rather than something potentially better. This, despite vocal criticism online (e.g., Twitter) against the tentative agreement.
So Stand-In Central is left wondering: Are you really going to vote yes? Really? Really??
SAG-AFTRA’s majority report on why members should vote yes: https://318millionmore.com
SAG-AFTRA’s minority report on why members should vote no: https://www.dissentingopinion2020.com
If you’re a stand-in, how are you voting and why? What aspects of the tentative agreement inform your choice? Share your thoughts in the comments below!