EXCLUSIVE: Dues payable by SAG-AFTRA’s high-earning members will be going up over the next two years, per a resolution passed at the union’s recently-concluded 5th biennial convention. The dues hike will be achieved by increasing the maximum earnings on which members pay their percentage of work dues.
The dues cap on work earnings, which has not been raised since the merger of SAG and AFTRA in 2012, is currently set at $500,000, but will be going up to $750,000 in May of 2022, and to $1 million in May of 2023.
The resolution passed at the convention states:
WHEREAS, member dues are the main means by which SAG-AFTRA is able to fund its work on behalf of members, and
WHEREAS, those resources underpin all essential SAG-AFTRA initiatives, including contract negotiations and enforcement, safety protocols and rules, diversity, equity, and inclusion, residuals processing, and countless other activities protecting our members; and
WHEREAS, it is essential that the dues structure be as fair and equitable as possible, ensuring that all members pay their fair share of the costs of operating the union, while also assuring lower income members that union dues will not become a financial hardship, and higher income members that their dues level remains appropriate, commensurate with their success working under SAG-AFTRA contracts; and
WHEREAS, the initial dues structure set during the merger process in 2012 has not been changed since, and limits “work dues,” those assessed as a percentage of earnings under SAG-AFTRA contracts, to the first $500,000 of earnings; and
WHEREAS, it has become clear that capping dues on earnings at that level has, over time, resulted in a less equitable structure than should be in place; and
WHEREAS, the Convention has the authority pursuant to Article IV(2)(c) of the Constitution to approve changes to the dues structure, provided that any increase does not exceed 5% per year;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the SAG-AFTRA Convention resolves:
In order to ensure a more equitable dues structure, the Convention authorizes the following changes to the $500,000 limit on earnings upon which work dues are assessed (“dues caps”), such that the dues caps are increased in amounts that do not exceed the annual 5% aggregate limitation on Convention-authorized dues increases, as follows:
Effective May 2022: $750,000
Effective May 2023: $1,000,000
The foregoing does not authorize any other increase to dues, whether as to base dues, the rate charged on earnings for work dues, or dues caps that are presently set at any other level. Nothing in this resolution affects the existing authorization for automatic annual increases to initiation fees or base dues as approved by member referendum in March 2012.
Nothing in this resolution affects the National Board’s existing Constitutional authority with respect to dues, as set forth in Articles IV and V of the Constitution.
An analysis of the proposed dues hike, provided by the union’s Counsel, said that “This resolution presents no legal or procedural concerns.”
A statement in support of the resolution said that “The working dues caps has not been changed since merger and it is apparent that the time has come to address the fairness of working dues. The unions’ services, organizing efforts and contract enforcement abilities are constrained by the amount of dues the union is able to collect. These increases are fair and within the constitutional authority set by the constitution and will increase the ability of the union to organize, enforce our contracts and better serve our members.”
A statement of support of the dues hike was submitted by Camryn Manheim, the union’s former secretary-treasurer, on behalf of Gabrielle Carteris, the union’s former president, and numerous other SAG-AFTRA leaders and members, including William Charlton, Ezra Knight, Clyde Kusatsu, Suzanne Burkhead, Michele Proude, Anthony Rapp, Jason George, Michelle Hurd, John Rothman, Ilyssa Fradin, Eric Wydra, Bill Mootos, Mel MacKaron, Linda Powell, Carl Salonen and Kathryn Klvana.
During her closing remarks at the virtual convention, which concluded on Monday, SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher called for unity, inclusivity and environmental awareness. “I want to see more women in high places across all fronts,” she told the convention’s 480 delegates. “There must be women invited to every table or there cannot be fully realized success. Women offer an essential balance to any and every conversation. As women’s rights over their own bodies are being taken away through legislation, I once again look to our union to help by exemplifying gender equality.”
“We also have a tremendous responsibility,” she said, “to raise the bar on issues of diversity, equality and inclusion, to take a stand on environmental issues and shift our industry’s waste paradigm towards significant reductions of its carbon footprint. We stand tall with a united, fearless show of strength, conviction, and innovation.”
Secretary-treasurer Joely Fisher, noting that “we are in the middle of a great labor awakening,” outlined her goals over the next two years, including addressing the union’s financial health, its health care plan and negotiating power. “My job is the stewardship of the financial solvency of this union and, to that end, I intend to serve with distinction,” she said. “Know this: I stand in solidarity with each and every one of you … and ask that you stay strong, active and engaged as unionists. The momentum is with us, my union sisters, brothers and siblings. We are on the right side of history at the right time; we are in the middle of a great labor awakening. America is organizing, and we at SAG-AFTRA have the opportunity to be a beacon of hope to union members everywhere.” She also paid tribute to her friend and mentor, the late SAG president Ed Asner, who died last month.
Ben Whitehair, who was elected executive vice president at the convention, discussed industry changes due to evolving technologies and encouraged delegates to mentor the next generation of performers and to stand up and fight when needed.
“In a time when mega-mergers consolidate power into fewer and fewer hands, this union is as important as ever,” said Whitehair, who is now the union’s second-ranking officer. “Our industry is ever-changing; there are always new fights to fight. Some at the negotiating table, others in state capitol buildings and the halls of Congress. In the coming years, as we take on the formidable challenges of advances in streaming, exclusivity, rights of publicity, diversity, equity and inclusion, and workplace safety, let us not forget that the union is both our sword and our shield – and let us never lose sight of the difference we make.”
National executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland spoke about the union’s work over the past two years and its response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent shutdown of the film and TV industry. He also praised the collaborative efforts to create return-to-work safety guidelines, and the union’s continued collaboration with its sister unions, including the DGA and IATSE.
“It was a big achievement to have all those unions sit down and create an industrywide agreement that let our members get back to work, and we’re already seeing long-term, positive effects from this,” he said. “Our relationships with those unions are stronger than ever, and I believe this will translate directly into greater success at the bargaining table.” He also cited SAG-AFTRA’s support of IATSE during its recent bargaining efforts with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, and legislation such as the Free Artists from Industry Restrictions (FAIR) Act in California and the federal American Music Fairness Act.
Delegates also passed two constitutional amendments to advance the union’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. The first amendment will officially add Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts to the union’s objectives, and the second amendment will update SAG-AFTRA’s governing documents, including its Constitution, to eliminate gender-specific pronouns and replace them with the gender-neutral pronouns “they,” “them” and “their.”
Of the 40 resolutions considered, those passed included support for journalists covering the coronavirus pandemic; continuing efforts to provide experienced Black hair and makeup artists on set, and introducing a code of conduct for diversity, equity and inclusion practices in casting.
Convention delegates also resolved to examine ways to create a pathway to membership for intimacy coordinators, and condemned restrictive abortion laws, specifically the most recent “Heartbeat” mandates seen in states such as Texas.
AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler delivered a keynote address to the convention, reflecting on the state of labor during the pandemic, and the work of SAG-AFTRA to reopen the industry and safely get members back to work. “In the darkest days of the pandemic, through fear and uncertainty and isolation, you were, and continue to be, voices and faces that keep us reassured, entertained and connected,” she told the delegates.
“We have weathered extraordinary challenges, and SAG-AFTRA has been there, stepping up relentlessly for its members. You set the standard for how to get people back to work safely, which became best practices for others to follow.”
She also discussed the revitalization of the labor movement and the recent shift in the public’s perception of unions. “Covid has pushed us to a tipping point and working people are fed up. They’re tired of being called essential one minute, and then being disrespected and treated as disposable the next minute. There is a nationwide reckoning happening right now, and people are starting to see unions as a solution. Right now, over 100,000 union members are either on strike, or about to go on strike across the country in all kinds of industries, and it is amazing to see the solidarity of SAG-AFTRA members supporting their union siblings in all kinds of ways. We have so much opportunity ahead of us, and this is our moment to grow a bolder, more dynamic and inclusive labor movement that fights for the policies and changes that will make a tangible difference in people’s lives.”
The convention also saw the presentation of the union’s George Heller Memorial Award to members and staff for their contributions to the union. The recipients are William Charlton, the union’s vice president of actors/performers; SAG-AFTRA national board member Bill Mootos; SAG-AFTRA chief cinancial officer Arianna Ozzanto, and SAG-AFTRA chief communications & marketing officer Pamela Greenwalt.
In other awards, the union presented its American Scene Awards, which honor producers “who realistically portray the American Scene by employing union talent from misrepresented or underrepresented groups.” This year’s winners are:
• Music & Sound Recordings Award: Capitol Records Nashville for Mickey Guyton’s Black Like Me
• Belva Davis News & Broadcast Award: 20/20 by ABC News and The Courier Journal in Louisville for Say Her Name: Breonna Taylor
• Entertainment Award: Warner Bros. Pictures for Judas and the Black Messiah