SAG-AFTRA Board Approves Contract With 86% Vote, Fran Drescher Breaks Down Path to the Deal

SAG-AFTRA’s national board approved the tentative agreement that was negotiated with Hollywood studios with an 86% approval vote on Friday. Union leaders Fran Drescher and Duncan Crabtree-Ireland unveiled key details of the new contract during a press conference, where they touted it as an agreement that reflects the changed nature of the entertainment industry. The ratification vote will begin on Tuesday and will go through the first week of December, and a summary of the contract will be released on Monday.

“We are exceedingly grateful for all the support from the entertainment unions throughout the strike. This victory is for all of us,” Crabtree-Ireland said. “While the gains in these new contracts will keep the entertainment industry sustainable for working class performers, they serve as an example of what can be accomplished through collective action and solidarity.”

Some actors have already returned to work, with many performers being added to For Your Consideration events in Los Angeles starting Thursday night.

The AMPTP commemorated the guild’s vote in a statement of their own later Friday and expressed gratitude that the industry work stoppage is finally over.

“We are pleased that the National Board has recommended the agreement for ratification by the membership,” a spokesperson said in a statement acquired by TheWrap. “We are also grateful that the entire industry has enthusiastically returned to work.”

The agreement, which is estimated by SAG-AFTRA to be valued at over $1 billion, is the result of more than a month of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers that began on Oct. 2 and ended Nov. 8, with a two-week pause in the middle when the studios called off talks over objections to SAG-AFTRA’s revenue sharing proposal for streaming services.

When the two sides met again on Oct. 24, they began working towards a compromise that involves a new streaming compensation structure for actors based around bonuses for highly viewed movies and TV shows, but which adopts the payment structure that SAG-AFTRA sought with their revenue sharing proposal.

A New Fund Based on Streaming Residuals

As part of the new proposal, actors that perform on shows that are viewed by a certain amount of a streaming service’s subscriber base will receive a bonus equivalent to 100% of their streaming residual, but a portion of that will be sent to a new fund operated by trustees from both SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP studios, similar to the guild’s health and pension plans. A “firm commitment” to the fund was not in the “best, last, and final” offer from AMPTP, and SAG-AFTRA said it was necessary. “The fund was on the table but in a non-committed way at the 11th hour,” Crabtree-Ireland said.

SAG-AFTRA estimates that this structure will generate $40 million for the fund per year, less than what it would have gotten under the revenue sharing plan the union proposed, but it establishes a base that the guild will likely look to increase in future negotiating cycles. The mechanism for distributing the fund’s money to members who appear on streaming shows and movies will be determined by the fund’s trustees once they are selected.

Higher Minimum Increases Than WGA and DGA

For decades, AMPTP has practiced pattern bargaining when it comes to basic minimum rate increases with the Hollywood guilds. The percentage that gets negotiated with the first union to start negotiations is what the studios hold firm to in talks with the other two unions. Background actor wage increased 11% in the first year and 4% in each of the next two years.

SAG-AFTRA broke that pattern bargaining in its contract talks, pushing for an 11% increase in basic minimums for the first year of the new contract. AMPTP negotiated that down to 8% in the tentative agreement. The final agreement gives 7% basic minimum increases in first year, 4% in second, 3.5% in third year, but that is higher than the 5% first year increase that the Writers Guild and Directors Guild negotiated. “This package breaks the so called ‘industry pattern,'” said Crabtree-Ireland.

“Pattern bargaining felt more like a negotiating tactic for reality, and that is a tactic that has been enforced for many many cycles,” he said. “So getting a wage increase that pulls our members from the ravages of inflation … on top of that, it delivers the message that the pattern is only as strong as you let it be. That is a message not just for our union but for everybody.”

Drescher added that she felt the “weight” of those out of work during the negotiations. “That was why Duncan pushed so heavily for interim agreements. While we were feeling the weight of people whose livelihoods were halted, we heard from their union leadership, ‘Get the best deal you can get.'”

West and East coast covered employment for background actors is now equal. There is $180 million estimated increases to health and pension plans.

A Full Suite of AI Protections

The final days of negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP revolved around the contract language regarding actors’ consent and compensation for digital replicas of their performances and likenesses. The list of rules extends for several pages and was touted by Crabtree-Ireland as one of the negotiating committee’s proudest achievements from these talks.

The new contract requires informed consent from any actor, even background, to use a digital replica. With the sole exception of multi-picture deals it might be obtained at the time of use with a description of what the replica will be used for. “It has to be a specific description of what the intended use is,” Crabtree-Ireland said. “There’s a specific standard for that compensation depending on the type of replica. This move ensures that background actors are hired and that digital replicas are not used to replace them.”

“Up until the very end, we were engaged with a serious discussion on how AI could create synthetic performers,” he said. “The companies are obligated to inform whenever they use AI to create synthetic performers and the union has the right to represent actors used to create those synthetic performers.”

Drescher added, “AI is important, because in a synthetic world, you don’t need hair and makeup. You don’t need set designers. What we were discussing with AI affects what they’re going to discuss about AI.”

Other elements include sets requiring intimacy coordinators for all shoots.

Drescher even addressed criticism that bubbled up during negotiations about her bringing a heart-shaped plushie toy to the talks, which was given to her by a child to give her confidence.

“Attacking the woman leader, trying to make me out as overly aggressive or frivolous when they never talked about Duncan is … a ploy that I think should be beneath anyone,” she said. “They weaponized all that to discredit me. And what I did was turn it around into a movement for women and girls, because I don’t have to emulate male energy to lead. I can lead with intellect, I can lead with wisdom, I can lead with empathy.”

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