Although Stand-In Central releases blog posts on Wednesdays at 10pm Eastern, given the important and timely nature of this subject to stand-ins, we originally made this week’s post early — on Monday morning, June 20, 2022. This post pertains to voting around SAG-AFTRA’s proposed Netcode contract. Under the current Netcode contract, many professional union stand-ins work hourly wages with just 2-hour minimums. That means they can leave work with $58 to their name. Because SAG-AFTRA has informational meetings around the proposed Netcode that were on Thursday, June 23rd (i.e., later this post’s week), we decided to post early so that members attending the informational meetings can ask questions posed in this post. If you get answers, please get in touch with Stand-In Central or post in the comments section at the bottom. Information on the informational meetings is at the end of this post.

We have re-dated this post to Wednesday (June 19, 2022) at 10pm — our usual publication time.

— The Editor

As Stand-In Central reported earlier, in May 2022, SAG-AFTRA came to a tentative agreement over a successor to the Network Television Code (“Netcode”), a collective bargaining agreement that covers work on many shows that have studio audiences (game shows, variety shows, etc.), promos, soap operas, and certain “dramatic programs.”

The referendum booklet disclosing the proposed terms of the Netcode successor is now available after the SAG-AFTRA national board approved the tentative agreement earlier this month.

In this post, we’ll cover those negotiated terms as they apply to SAG-AFTRA Netcode stand-ins, and consider whether you should vote yes or vote no on ratifying the proposed Netcode successor.  

The proposed Netcode successor will not go into effect unless a majority of SAG-AFTRA members vote yes to ratify it.  If a majority of SAG-AFTRA members vote no not to ratify it, then presumably SAG-AFTRA will need to go back to bargain for a better deal for SAG-AFTRA members.

SAG-AFTRA, as usual, says to vote yes. Does Stand-In Central recommend your doing so? Read on.

What’s the Netcode?

The Netcode is an old AFTRA contract that SAG-AFTRA took over upon the 2012 merger of SAG and AFTRA. As explained above, the Netcode is a collective bargaining agreement that covers work on many shows that have studio audiences (game shows, variety shows, awards shows, etc.), promos, soap operas, and certain “dramatic programs.” It is one of the larger collective bargaining agreements SAG-AFTRA has, although many members (and notably stand-ins) are generally unfamiliar with it and more familiar with the SAG-AFTRA Theatrical and Television Agreements.

Want to read the Netcode?

The current Netcode is a composite of the 2014-2018 agreement plus a 2018 memorandum of agreement that modifies parts of it. (Netcode producers generally are not signed to the pandemic-related Return to Work Agreement.) A “rate sheet” helps one quickly understand the current pay rates for those working under the current Netcode (2021 rates currently apply).

While Netcode jobs help unit employees earn toward SAG-AFTRA Health Plan eligibility, Netcode jobs often split the earnings of unit employees and help them earn toward eligibility for an AFTRA Retirement Fund pension credit rather than an SAG Pension Plan credit. For those chasing SAG Pension Plan credits exclusively, Netcode jobs can be a nuisance, taking away union work time from earning SAG Pension Plan eligibility.

Curious about the Split-Earnings Problem?

The Acting Income Podcast covered the topic of the split-earnings problem in Episode 37. Although the episode is from 2018, much of the content is still relevant in 2022 because the SAG Pension Plan and AFTRA Retirement Fund are still unmerged, despite innuendo put forth during the 2012 merger proposal over a decade ago that they may be merged soon after merger.

Listen to Episode 37 of The Acting Income Podcast: “The Split-Earnings Problem: SAG-AFTRA’s Elephant in the Room” »

In general, the Netcode has lower rates for many SAG-AFTRA unit employees working on them compared to other SAG-AFTRA agreements and work. While many stand-ins working under the current Netcode make $29/hour, some of these stand-ins have just a two-hour minimum rather than an 8-hour daily rate typical of most SAG-AFTRA jobs. So, these stand-ins could report to work, be wrapped in two hours, then have $58 gross for what effectively is a day’s work. Stand-In Central has long covered the problem of two-hour minimums for stand-ins.

The current Netcode was set to expire nearly one year ago (on June 30, 2021). However, around five different times over more than a year, SAG-AFTRA agreed to extend the current Netcode. SAG-AFTRA did not disclose why it agreed to extend the effectively expired contract, and in fact, SAG-AFTRA rarely said anything publicly about the extensions. As a result, Netcode stand-ins and other SAG-AFTRA unit employees continued to work under effectively expired wages and working conditions.

What Did SAG-AFTRA Negotiate for Stand-Ins in the Proposed 2022 Netcode Successor?

SAG-AFTRA first released by way of a press release a summary of what it achieved in negotiations with Netcode producers. Around that time, it also released a referendum booklet with more detail in what it achieved.

You can view the 2022 Netcode Referendum Booklet by clicking here.

The following sections will speak to the disclosures in the referendum booklet and, in particular, how they would apply to Netcode stand-ins if a majority of SAG-AFTRA members vote yes to ratify the proposed Netcode successor.

Wage Increases

The referendum booklet states there would be a “General Wage Increase” of 3% retroactive to July 1, 2021, then a 3% wage increase July 1, 2022, and again on July 1, 2023. This phrasing of a “General” wage increase implies that not all unit employees’ wages will increase under this proposed Netcode successor.

In fact, a footnote in the language of this section clarifies “The general wage increase shall apply to the following sections [i.e., Paragraphs of the Netcode]: 2.A.(2)(a); 2.B.(1),(2) and (3), 2.C.(1); 3.A. and B.; 4.A.(1),(2) and (3); 4.B.(1) and (2); 5.A.(1), (3), (7), (14) and (16); 5.B.(1)(a), (2)(a), (3)(a) and (3)(b); 6.B and E.; 7.(A), (B), (C) and (D); 9.A.; 36.B(2); 75.A.(2) and 76.A.”

Obviously, this summary language is extraordinarily opaque to the layperson/SAG-AFTRA unit member, given none of the referenced paragraphs are titled. For a referendum booklet aimed at promoting a yes vote, the wage-increase opacity may be by design as not to upset those SAG-AFTRA unit workers not getting wage increases thus pushing them to vote no.

Relevant to stand-ins is Paragraph 36.(B)(2) of the Netcode, which pertains to “Stand-ins on dramatic programs.”

Stand-Ins on Dramatic Programs (“Daily Stand-Ins”)

Not all Netcode stand-ins are covered by Paragraph 36.(B)(2), but for those stand-ins “on dramatic programs,” if the proposed successor is ratified, those stand-ins will receive an “Increase [in] wages by 3% effective July 1, 2021, 3% effective July 1, 2022 and 3% on July 1, 2023.”

These stand-ins “on dramatic programs” are currently making daily rates of $198 (for 8 hours). So, any work these stand-ins did between July 1st of last year (2021) and a possible date of ratification would be subject to retroactive payment adjustments. In other words, employers would cut some checks to these stand-ins as retroactive wage increases. Presumptively, a 3% increase would be around $204 covering from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022. Retroactive payments would also apply to work performed on July 1st of this year (2022) until the date of ratification, and a 3% increase on $204 would be around $210 for that second phase of wage increases. From July 1st of next year (2023), the daily rate for stand-ins “on dramatic programs” adjusts to around $216.

To summarize, proposed Netcode daily rates for stand-ins “on dramatic programs”:

  • $198 – current stand-in rate on Netcode dramatic programs
  • ~$204 – retroactive stand-in rate from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022
  • ~$210 – (retroactive) stand-in rate from July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2023
  • ~$216 – stand-in rate from July 1, 2023, through June 30, 2024

For comparison, as of June 2022, stand-ins under SAG-AFTRA’s Television Agreement currently make a daily rate of $214 on most productions, so ~$204 as a proposed Netcode daily rate is ~$10 lower than SAG-AFTRA stand-ins on non-Netcode dramatic productions.

Other Netcode Stand-Ins (“Hourly Stand-Ins”)

As for other stand-ins, there are those covered under the preceding paragraph in the Netcode, Paragraph 36.(B)(1). These stand-ins are not stand-ins “on dramatic programs” but instead are stand-ins “on non-dramatic programs and daytime serials.” As far as Stand-In Central can tell, most Netcode stand-ins fall into this category.

In contrast to those on dramatic programs who make a daily rate, stand-ins on non-dramatic programs and daytime serials make an hourly rate. That hourly rate comes with minimum work hours that are all under 8 hours.

So what does the referendum booklet say about wage increases for hourly stand-ins? Currently, hourly stand-ins make a minimum of $29/hour. The referendum booklet says that if the proposed successor is ratified, the rate for hourly stand-ins will “Increase […] from $29 to $30 effective July 1, 2021, and to $31 effective July 1, 2022.” Apparently, stand-ins will not receive a pay increase on July 1, 2023, under this proposed agreement, in contrast to stand-ins on dramatic programs, who will be getting a wage increase on July 1, 2023.

To summarize, proposed Netcode rates for hourly stand-ins:

  • $29/hour – current stand-in rate on Netcode non-dramatic programs and daytime serials
  • $30/hour – retroactive stand-in rate from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022
  • $31/hour – (retroactive) stand-in rate from July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2024 (i.e., for two years)

It is unclear whether hourly stand-ins who worked at overscale rates will qualify for retroactive payments. Presumably they will not (insofar as the overscale payment was above the proposed hourly rates).

Minimum Hours Increases

The current Netcode lists the minimums for hourly stand-ins as:

  • 5-hour minimum – stand-ins on prime time variety programs 60 minutes or longer
  • 5-hour minimum – stand-ins on awards programs in excess of 1 hour
  • 3-hour minimum – stand-ins on prime time entertainment programs 60 minutes or longer
  • 2-hour minimum – stand-ins on talk shows**
  • 2-hour minimum – for members of the cast engaged as stand-ins on a day on which they do not otherwise perform or rehearse
  • 2-hour minimum – stand-ins who are not members of the cast but engaged solely as stand-ins
  • 1-hour minimum – stand-ins on non-dramatic programs and daytime serials, under rare conditions***

** The minimum hours for stand-ins on a talk show does not seem to appear in the Netcode, but the 2022 referendum booklet discloses this current minimum.

*** Rarely do stand-ins meet the criteria for having a 1-hour minimum because if stand-ins are hired as stand-ins, that triggers at least a 2-hour minimum under the Netcode.

On increases in hourly stand-ins’ minimum hours, the referendum booklet says:

Effective July 1, 2022, increase the minimum call for Stand-Ins: On Award Shows over one hour from five (5) to seven (7) hours, for Primetime Entertainment programs over one hour from three (3) to four (4) hours, for Talk Shows from two (2) to four (4) hours and for all other shows from two (2) to three (3) hours.

Formatting these more clearly, it appears these would be the new minimum hours for hourly stand-ins if the Netcode successor is ratified:

  • 5-hour minimum – stand-ins on prime time variety programs 60 minutes or longer
  • 5-hour minimum 7-hour minimum– stand-ins on awards programs in excess of 1 hour
  • 3-hour minimum 4-hour minimum – stand-ins on prime time entertainment programs 60 minutes or longer
  • 2-hour minimum 4-hour minimum – stand-ins on talk shows
  • 2-hour minimum 3-hour minimum – for members of the cast engaged as stand-ins on a day on which they do not otherwise perform or rehearse
  • 2-hour minimum 3-hour minimum – stand-ins who are not members of the cast but engaged solely as stand-ins

It is unclear whether stand-ins on non-dramatic programs and daytime serials who have a 1-hour minimum will see any increase in their minimum hours, but as explained above, meeting the criteria for a 1-hour minimum is rare. Nonetheless, there does not appear to be an increase in wages for stand-ins who meet the criteria for having a 1-hour minimum.

To put these minimum-hours increases in perspective, currently, those stand-ins with 2-hour minimums working at $29/hour face a takehome of $58. If SAG-AFTRA members ratify the proposed successor, these Netcode stand-ins will work at $31/hour and face a takehome of about $93. Although ~$93 is more than 33% higher than $58, that paycheck is still less than $100 gross for what is effectively a day’s work for that stand-in (because it is unlikely that stand-in can book another union job that day to offest that small, professional, union paycheck). Most of these hourly stand-in jobs are likely in big cities like New York City and Los Angeles, where the cost of living is very high.

However, aside from the increased minimum pay that comes with increased minimum hours for many hourly stand-ins, another plus is that more money counts toward an hourly stand-in’s SAG-AFTRA Health Plan eligibility. Currently, Netcode hourly stand-ins qualify for days based on the rate Netcode background actors make. So, the closer to a background actor’s daily rate a stand-in’s takehome pay is, the great percentage of an eligibility day the stand-in has achieved toward health insurance.

Smoke Pay, Rain Pay, and Snow Pay

Because Netcode stand-ins commonly work on stages with studio audiences, it is not uncommon for them to work in “atmosphere.” Atmosphere (sometimes called “haze” or “atmospheric smoke”) is not actual smoke but is an effect that generally helps make light appear as “beams” in a shot. A program can also use atmosphere to create the effect of “smoke.”

Under the Theatrical and Television Agreements, stand-ins receive an adjustment of $14 to their pay when working in smoke or wet conditions (familiarly known as “smoke pay” or “wet pay”). Because smoke pay and wet pay are adjustments and not “bumps,” they increase the hourly pay rate for stand-ins, which especially pay off for stand-ins who enter overtime.

But the Netcode does not have smoke pay or wet pay. So, currently, stand-ins working in smoke and wet conditions are not entitled to additional payment under the Netcode.

SAG-AFTRA’s proposed Netcode successor has provisions around smoke and wet conditions — or, rather than wet conditions, rain and snow conditions.  The referendum booklet states:

[…] Stand-Ins Required to Work in Rain, Snow or Smoke […]: Require additional compensation of $14 per day to a […] stand-in that is required to work in artificially generated rain or smoke (excluding smoke from herbal cigarettes). The additional compensation will not be owed if the […] stand-in is wearing swimming or surfing gear required for the scene or is wearing appropriate snow apparel.

It appears the proposed Netcode gives smoke pay, rain pay, and snow pay not as an adjustment but instead as a “bump.” So, the payment is a lump-sum payment of $14 to the stand-in working in these conditions, rather than an increase in the stand-in’s hourly rate.

For most hourly stand-ins, this $14 lump payment would be similar to an adjustment if they had a daily rate, because most hourly stand-ins don’t even work 8 hours to experience overtime. But for daily stand-ins, this $14 lump payment is less meaningful in the event they go into overtime. Their union siblings under the Theatrical and Television Agreements would be working at a higher rate under smoke and wet conditions, but daily stand-ins under this proposed Netcode will just get $14 flat.

Smoke Pay Weirdness

The language of this proposed paragraph is a bit weaselly, though. To wit, around the matter of “smoke pay”:

  • Smoke from herbal cigarettes does not trigger smoke pay. Why this is the case is a bit absurd because herbal cigarettes arguably produce actual smoke that could irritate or even injure a stand-in, a stand-in’s voice, a stand-in’s sinuses, etc. According to the American Cancer Society, “Even herbal cigarettes with no tobacco give off tar, particulates, and carbon monoxide and are dangerous to your health.”
  • It is not clear if stand-ins working in artificially generated smoke will receive additional compensation, because the proposed language is ambiguous. The language reads additional compensation applies in the event of “artificially generated rain or smoke,” but it does not read “artificially generated rain or artificially generated smoke.” Essentially, the way the language reads on its face, smoke pay will only apply to stand-ins who work in artificially generated rain or in actual smoke — with the exception of actual smoke from herbal cigarettes. In fact, the inclusion of the exception for herbal cigarette smoke, which is actual smoke, adds more confusion about what kind of smoke conditions obligate payment of smoke pay to stand-ins. This point needs greater clarification to remove ambiguity, so productions and stand-ins are crystal clear, especially considering some stand-ins prefer not to work in smoke conditions if presented the option pre-hire or on offer. While this is just a guess, if a stand-in worked in actual smoke or in artificially generated smoke like atmosphere or haze, that stand-in would qualify for smoke pay given the general title of the proposed paragraph (“Stand-Ins Required to Work in Rain, Snow or Smoke”) — except in the event the only smoke on set is from herbal cigarettes (for some strange reason). But titles in contracts aren’t usually binding, so — again — greater clarification is needed.

Rain Pay and Snow Pay Weirdness

Also weaselly is the language around “rain pay” and “snow pay”:

  • There seems to be “rain pay” and “snow pay,” but not more generally “wet pay.” It’s unclear why this is the case. This proposed paragraph needs to call it “wet pay,” and include work in rain and in snow under the “wet pay” category. Otherwise, it seems under this proposed agreement a stand-in can get wet on set and not be paid additionally for it as long as the wetness wasn’t from artificially generated rain or from snow.
  • It is not clear if working in actual rain qualifies a stand-in for rain pay. The language reads additional compensation applies in the event of “artificially generated rain,” seeming to take a step to clarify the kind of rain that applies and possibly does not apply for rain pay. While this is just a guess, if a stand-in worked in actual rain, that stand-in would qualify for rain pay given the general title of the proposed paragraph (“Stand-Ins Required to Work in Rain, Snow or Smoke”). But titles in contracts aren’t usually binding, so — again — greater clarification is needed.
  • Unwisely assuming the proposed agreement is gunning more generally for “wet pay,” wearing swimming or surfing gear as a stand-in in a swimming or surfing scene will disqualify that stand-in for “wet pay.” A similar wet-pay exception appears in the Theatrical and Television Agreements. Stand-ins working in water can suffer from hypothermia, even wearing swimming and surfing “gear,” so it seems wrongheaded to except stand-ins from wet pay even when in swimming or surfing scenes. Rather, that kind of stand-in work deserves much higher additional compensation given the usual physical demands of that water work.
  • Wearing appropriate snow apparel will disqualify a stand-in from snow pay. This also seems wrongheaded. In the event working in the snow implies extremely cold temperatures and appropriate attire for the cold, the work is more difficult and dangerous, especially when a Netcode production requires a stand-in to stand in place in the cold for an extended period of time without moving. The difficulty, danger, and discomfort imply additional compensation for the challenging stand-in work.

Nudity and Simulated Sex Language

Under the current Netcode, stand-ins are defined as “performers.” Paragraph 36 clearly states, “Stand-ins […] are defined as those performers who are engaged by the company to substitute for members of the cast during rehearsal.”

The proposed Netcode successor provides numerous protections for performers involved in scenes with nudity and simulated sex. They are worth a read in the referendum booklet starting on page 2. We’ll touch here on some important ones before the stand-in work begins.

With respect to notification about the nature of the work, it reads,

If known at the time, the Producer will notify the performer or their representative of any nudity or simulated sex expected in the role prior to an interview or audition and include that information in any casting notice. If the performer has already been cast at the time that Producer learns of any nudity or simulated sex expected in the role, it will notify producer as soon as possible.

Given that Netcode stand-ins are performers, it would appear this language would also apply to stand-ins. Thereby, under such language if ratified, producers will notify not just actors in nudity and simulated sex but also their stand-ins — at least in any casting notice, or otherwise ASAP.

Given that stand-ins frequently fall through the cracks in terms of notification (sometimes even showing up to work to find they are standing in in a sex scene with a stranger), it will have to be seen whether producers provide appropriate notification to stand-ins and whether SAG-AFTRA will admonish producers who do not provide stand-ins with proper notification.

No Pension Plan Merger Language

What the proposed Netcode successor lacks is any language preparing within the term of this three-year agreement for a merger of the AFTRA Retirement Fund with the SAG Pension Plan.

While a merger of the pension plans is not a mandatory subject of bargaining for SAG-AFTRA and the other parties, the lack of language preparing for a possible merger more seems to imply no projection of a merger of the pension plans during the term of this proposed agreement. (If ratified, the agreement would expire June 30, 2024.)

No Coronavirus or Pandemic Protections

Generally, no Netcode producer is signed to the Return To Work Agreement (“RTWA”), an agreement that obligates payments for testing and other work conditions related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, according to SAG-AFTRA, SAG-AFTRA asks Netcode producers to “follow” the RTWA. But, in the event a producer asked to follow the RTWA deviates from it, SAG-AFTRA unit employees like stand-ins have no valid grievance, because the producer is not signed to the RTWA. In effect, nothing in the RTWA is enforceable because Netcode producers are not signed to the RTWA.

Even though SAG-AFTRA has repeatedly stated since at least October 2020 that it has been in ongoing negotiations with Netcode producers related to matters covered by the RTWA, the proposed Netcode shows not a trace of any RTWA-related achievement (except COVID-19 related considerations for hair and makeup on daytime serials). If it is true that SAG-AFTRA was in ongoing negotiations over pandemic-related obligations under the Netcode, SAG-AFTRA has virtually nothing to show for it in this proposed successor.

Of note, the pandemic is more than two years old, and SAG-AFTRA unit members continue to have exposure when working on Netcode jobs to unilateral choices made by Netcode producers around the pandemic, even including disciplining SAG-AFTRA unit members in ways unsupported by anything in the current Netcode. SAG-AFTRA’s proposed agreement here appears to do nothing to help SAG-AFTRA unit members facing these exploitations by some Netcode producers during the pandemic or around coronavirus-related work conditions.

Summary: Vote Yes or Vote No?

To summarize this proposed Netcode successor for stand-ins, if ratified, stand-ins will see:

  • Retroactive payments for work done from July 1, 2021, until about the day of ratification
  • Gains of $1/hour each year, except for the last year (hourly stand-ins)
  • Gains in most but not all minimum hours for hourly stand-ins, but still no daily rate guaranteed for hourly stand-ins
  • Gains in wages each year for daily stand-ins, but all wage increases inferior to the wages of stand-ins on Theatrical and Television Agreement jobs
  • Under qualifying conditions, gains of smoke pay, rain pay, and snow pay, but with some serious ambiguity about when those are actually triggered and when they are not triggered
  • Notification if stand-ins (defined as performers) would be involved in a scene with nudity or simulated sex

What stand-ins won’t see:

  • An abolition of hourly minimums in favor of only daily rates for stand-ins
  • Any coronavirus/pandemic-related protections similar to the Return To Work Agreement (so no guarantees on testing payments, etc.)
  • Any language supporting a merger of the pension plans

How does Stand-In Central recommend voting? Honestly, it’s a toss-up. The retroactive payments were a surprise given the Netcode is nearly a year effectively expired, so if you stood in a lot in the past year, you may be surprised by a flurry of additional payments. However, if you worked overscale as a stand-in, it is unclear whether you will see these retroactive payments. Overall, a 3% wage increase for daily stand-ins is generally unsurprising, and it’s disappointing to see the union make no better achievement for daily stand-ins, especially considering the economic and financial climate right now. The $1/hour increases for hourly stand-ins effectively are pattern increases — in other words, they are the kinds of increases SAG-AFTRA tends to achieve for stand-ins every few years. That SAG-AFTRA even agrees to hourly wages for these stand-ins, rather than daily rates, is outrageous, because it means takehomes for these stand-ins can be less than the takehomes of minimum-wage workers working a full day. (These stand-ins can’t really pick up a second union job that day to “make ends meet.”) But boosting most of the minimum hours is at least something, and helps a little toward qualifying for a day toward SAG-AFTRA Health Plan eligibility for stand-ins who have low minimum calls.

Stand-In Central cannot vote, but given the toss-up, we would vote no on this proposed Netcode successor. Ultimately, there are no coronavirus protections SAG-AFTRA achieved despite more than a year of “ongoing negotiations,” pay for smoke, rain, and snow is too ambiguous and needs to be refined, and the pattern increases and retention of hourly rates during what appears to be a time of severe inflation do not show the union’s understanding of the economic realities of stand-ins working under the Netcode. A no vote will help toward not-ratifying this successor and returning SAG-AFTRA and the producers back to negotiations to get a better deal Stand-In Central would appreciate.

VOTE HERE NOW. SAG-AFTRA must receive votes by Friday, July 8, 2022, at 5pm Pacific Time (8pm Eastern Time).

On Thursday, June 23rd, SAG-AFTRA is hosting two informational meetings for “SAG-AFTRA members” via Zoom. One is at 12pm Pacific (3pm Eastern) and the other is at 6pm Pacific (9pm Eastern). SAG-AFTRA requires RSVPs.

What do you think of the proposed Netcode successor? What do you think of the terms for stand-ins? Share your thoughts in the comments below!