Updated with response from Actors’ Equity.
SAG-AFTRA has filed a jurisdictional complaint against Actors’ Equity in their ongoing dispute over the taping of live theatrical presentations. The union filed the complaint and a request for mediation with the Associated Actors and Artistes of America – commonly known as the 4As – through which both unions are affiliated with the AFL-CIO. “It is with heavy hearts that we file a formal complaint and request for a mediator in our jurisdictional dispute,” SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris and national executive director David White said in a message to their members today. “Let us be very clear: this is a last resort. We tried negotiation, but Actors’ Equity Association refused our waiver and walked away from talks with no notice.”
SAG-AFTRA, which has long claimed jurisdiction over the taping of live shows, offered Equity a limited waiver during the pandemic, but Equity rejected it, accusing SAG-AFTRA of “looking to use a pandemic to claim jurisdiction in Equity workplaces now and into the future in a way they haven’t had before,” and disrupting the relationship between employers and actors “that has existed for years, if not decades.”
“Unfortunately, AEA leadership repudiated our waiver offer, broke off negotiations, and passed a resolution in (Equity’s) Council calling for a formal public campaign against SAG-AFTRA members,” Carteris and White told their members. “We cannot be silent or stand idly by while a fellow union attacks the interests of our members. Consequently, we filed our complaint and informed AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and the Department for Professional Employees of our action. We have requested the appointment of a neutral mediator to re-engage AEA in negotiations and still hope that they will accept a waiver to get their members back to work.”
In its complaint, SAG-AFTRA accused Equity “with infringement of its rightful and traditional jurisdiction and seeks protection from any further encroachment and appropriate remedial relief for violations that have already occurred.” See the complaint and SAG-AFTRA’s letter AFL-CIO president Trumka here:
The SAG-AFTRA leaders said they tried conciliation, but Equity’s leadership “has rejected any alternative we offered and refuses to negotiate in good faith to find a mutually agreeable solution. AEA’s attacks on our union would be shocking at any time. They are irresponsible and heart-breaking during a global pandemic and production shutdown that daily harms all of our members. The only real solution is through partnership, with a waiver that protects all members, which we continue to offer, but AEA refuses.”
The dispute, they told their members, “is beyond a simple difference of opinion. AEA leadership has spearheaded a divisive and damaging public campaign to force members to choose which union they support. We believe that you should not have to choose. Our job is to protect the interests of SAG-AFTRA members and to help where we can, to protect AEA members. We remain eager to give AEA a waiver that would allow their members — many of whom are also SAG-AFTRA members — to continue working and earning through the pandemic.”
The waiver SAG-AFTRA offered would temporarily cede jurisdiction over taped theatrical presentations to Equity during the “Pandemic Period,” ending on April 30, 2021, unless both unions agree to an extension. And it comes with strict limitations: the taped shows can’t be exhibited on streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, HBO Max, Disney+, AppleTV+, CBS All Access, and Peacock – which would fall under SAG-AFTRA’s jurisdictions – but instead can only be viewed on restricted digital platforms “that can be accessed only by ticket-holders or subscribers of the existing Equity bargaining partner.” An Equity source said that many of its employers don’t even have such platforms.
See the proposed waiver here:
Earlier this month, the usually fractious SAG-AFTRA national board of directors unanimously approved a resolution reaffirming the union’s jurisdiction over the taping of live theater productions, accusing Actors’ Equity of taking part in a “surreptitious campaign to encroach upon SAG-AFTRA jurisdiction.” The board, meeting in special session, also directed SAG-AFTRA counsel to conduct an investigation into Equity’s “activities seeking to poach SAG-AFTRA’s jurisdiction.”
Equity president Kate Shindle subsequently accused SAG-AFTRA for interfering in her union’s internal affairs, calling the investigation a “sham.” Earlier this month, Equity said that more than 240 stage productions that were recorded for remote viewing during the pandemic have been performed under its contracts, while 60-plus have been performed under SAG-AFTRA’s contracts.
The SAG-AFTRA leaders said that they “continue to seek a resolution that serves SAG-AFTRA members and protects our jurisdiction while giving much-needed support to AEA members during this critical time.”
Last night, Shindle and Equity executive director Mary McColl told members in an email that “It didn’t have to be this way. We spent months privately discussing with SAG-AFTRA how union/employer relationships work and asked them to not interfere with our employers. Instead, they insisted on a so-called ‘waiver’ that is unusable, and they continued undercutting terms and conditions by signing Equity employers to lesser paying SAG-AFTRA contracts.
“SAG-AFTRA’s decision to announce an investigation targeting Equity the same day our industry was hit with an extended shutdown is deeply frustrating.
“Regardless, our focus is on doing what is right for actors and stage managers. We’re going to keep issuing agreements to Equity employers that allow all of us to earn fair pay and health weeks.”
Both unions’ health plans are experiencing serious shortfalls because of the lack of employer contributions during the coronavirus shutdown, and will be raising eligibility requirements on Jan. 1, 2021.
On Friday, Equity’s Council passed a resolution stating that “The recent unsanctioned organizing efforts of Equity employers by SAG-AFTRA are in direct violation of Article XX, Section 2 of the constitution of the AFL-CIO, which states in part that, ‘No affiliate shall organize or attempt to represent employees as to whom an established collective bargaining relationship exists with any other affiliate.’ Equity will respond appropriately and publicly to SAG-AFTRA’s infringement on its legal rights and relationships with its bargaining partners, and will defend its legally binding collective bargaining agreements with its employers in order to represent its members to the best of its ability.”
Here is the full resolution:
- Actors’ Equity Association’s signatory employers and employer groups recognize Actors’ Equity Association (Equity) as the exclusive bargaining representative of Stage Managers and Actors in their employ, and
- The recent unsanctioned organizing efforts of Equity employers by SAG-AFTRA are in direct violation of Article XX, Section 2 of the constitution of the AFL-CIO which states in part that, “No affiliate shall organize or attempt to represent employees as to whom an established collective bargaining relationship exists with any other affiliate,” and
- Equity affirms that the role of labor unions is to represent workers, not technology, which is constantly evolving, and
- SAG-AFTRA’s claim of “jurisdiction” does not in any way override Equity’s Recognition Agreements with its own bargaining partners, rendering invalid and unnecessary any subsequent “waiver” offered by SAG-AFTRA; and
- SAG-AFTRA’s unsanctioned organizing efforts of Equity employers disregard the cooperative relationship between the two unions regarding broadcast of theatrical content, which has existed for almost seven decades, and
- SAG-AFTRA’s unsanctioned organizing efforts of Equity employers have directly resulted in significant loss of $600,000 in earning for Equity members, and $154,000 in lost contributions to the Equity Health Fund, and
- This being especially true for Equity Stage Managers, whose union jobs SAG-AFTRA neglects and fails to represent, and
- This being especially true for BIPOC Equity members, members with disabilities, and members experiencing gender bias in hiring, all of whom already suffer a disproportionately lower rate of employment opportunities, and are disproportionately negatively impacted by economic inequality, and
- That loss of employment directly and adversely impacts all Equity members’ ability to qualify for health insurance and pension contributions through either union, particularly for those Equity members who live in areas with smaller theatre markets, and
- That loss of employment directly and adversely affects Equity’s financial health and solvency, and consequently its ability to protect its contracts and members, and
- The SAG-AFTRA contracts being utilized by Equity employers frequently allow lower salaries and indefinite deferments of pay, preclude Equity Pension and Health contributions, neglect the jobs of Stage Manager and Assistant Stage Manager, and offer weaker COVID-19 health and safety protocols than Equity contracts, and
- The current global COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered the business of live theatre for an unforeseeable period of time, jeopardizing Equity members’ employment, health, and security, while facing an unknown period of recovery, and
- In the seven months since the onset of the pandemic, conversations held between SAG-AFTRA and Equity to resolve this issue have been unproductive, and
- Equity’s calls for SAG-AFTRA to cease its unsanctioned organizing of our employers and employer groups have gone unheeded, undermining Equity’s ability to protect its members and contracts during the pandemic, and
- Despite Equity’s willingness to deliberate with its sibling union, SAG-AFTRA has preemptively launched a questionable public campaign propagating its position in an attempt to sway and distort public opinion, therefore:
NOW BE IT RESOLVED that Equity will respond appropriately and publicly to SAG-AFTRA’s infringement on its legal rights and relationships with its bargaining partners, and will defend its legally binding Collective Bargaining Agreements with its employers in order to represent its members to the best of its ability, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Equity will educate, organize, and mobilize its membership to champion and amplify Equity’s position by any means necessary, and
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that Equity fully intends to honor and defend its place in the larger labor movement, as should every other affiliate, respecting strict adherence to the Recognition Clause, one of the basic doctrines of trade unionism, and a core tenet of the Constitution of the AFL-CIO.
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