SAG-AFTRA Suspends Annual Dues Hike & Approves New “Influencers” Contract As Factions Continue To Fight Over Health Care & Governance

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David Robb
·5 min read
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SAG-AFTRA’s national board has suspended this year’s automatic annual 2% dues increase and will hold initiation fees at their current levels. The move, which had been recommended by the union’s Finance Committee, comes in recognition of the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on many members’ earnings.

In other actions, the board, meeting on Saturday, approved a recommendation to extend the lease on the union’s headquarters in Los Angeles to the year 2032, and approved a new agreement covering content created by so-called “influencers” when they are paid to advertise products or services. The union said that the new “influencers” agreement will allow it to “increase its coverage over this form of advertising, and increase opportunities for members to earn union income and qualify for health and pension benefits.”

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“Making it easier to cover this type of work has been a top priority for our organization,” said SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris. “I want to commend the efforts of our staff in creating an agreement that will benefit SAG-AFTRA’s current members as well as allowing all creators an opportunity to join the union. As new ways of storytelling emerge, it’s imperative that we embrace and lift up these artists.”

Despite the pandemic, secretary-treasurer Camryn Manheim and chief financial officer Arianna Ozzanto presented reports to the board showing that the fiscal year 2021 actuals “have performed better than planned.”

In her President’s Report, Carteris opened with a remembrance of members who died since the last national board meeting and led the board in a moment of silence. She also reported on the industry’s Return to Work Agreement and applauded members across the country who are encouraging adherence to safety protocols that protect members and ensure a safer return to work. She also saluted SAG-AFTRA broadcast members “for their fortitude and coverage over the past year, many while being maligned and facing violence when covering the news.”

As reported here earlier this morning, the board permanently banned former President Donald Trump from ever rejoining the union. Trump, who had been a member of the union for more than 30 years, resigned from SAG-AFTRA on Thursday while facing almost certain expulsion.

The board found that his constant attacks on the press – which includes many of the union’s broadcast members – “is anathema to the values embodied by SAG-AFTRA and to the members of SAG-AFTRA,” and undermined “the delivery of truthful information to the public.” The board also found that his actions leading up to the failed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 undermined “the peaceful transition of power in the United States.” This week, the U.S. Senate will put Trump on trial, following his second impeachment in the House of Representatives, for inciting the riot, and if convicted – which is unlikely – he’ll be banned from ever holding public office again.

In his letter of resignation, Trump wrote: “Who cares! I no longer wish to be associated with your union. As such, this letter is to inform you of my immediate resignation from SAG-AFTRA. You have done nothing for me.” That claim, however, is belied by the fact that he receives nearly $100,000 a year in SAG-AFTRA pensions. According to a financial disclosure report he filed in August, he receives a $90,776 pension for the acting work he performed on SAG-covered shows and an $8,724 pension for his AFTRA-covered work.

In other board business, David White, SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director, gave an update of the union’s operations, including gains in member services, enforcement, organizing, and member education and engagement. White also reported on the union’s technology and innovation enhancements, including the union’s new online enrollment tool, digital claims tracker, development of the online producer’s portal, and the results of the sexual harassment reporting app beta test.

“SAG-AFTRA continues to tap the power of innovation to serve members more efficiently,” White said. “The goal of our technology enhancements is to make the member experience faster, more efficient and more empowering. The pandemic has only motivated our team to redouble our efforts, and our work is paying big dividends for our members.”

SAG-AFTRA and the AFL-CIO will co-host the 3rd Annual Labor Innovation and Technology Summit Feb. 19. “This is an invaluable opportunity to bring workers from across labor to the table for crucial discussions about workforce transformation,” Carteris said.

In other business, the board rejected a changed proposed by the union’s minority party that would have brought the L.A. Local’s constitution in line with how ever other Locals handle board vacancies and replacements. Proponents of the change argued that this would have “fixed the issue where political parties in L.A. run high-profile members who have no intent of serving just to win seats that they then immediately resign from and appoint their party members who were not elected.” The union’s ruling Unite for Strength party, which opposed the change, makes up a majority of the national board, while the Membership First opposition party, which sought the change, makes up a majority of the L.A. Local’s board, which represents nearly half of all the union’s 160,000 members.

The two factions have also been at loggerheads over changes that were recently implemented by the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan, which, facing staggering deficits, raised premiums and earnings thresholds for coverage, effective on Jan. 1, in order to stay afloat.
In December, a group of SAG-AFTRA dissidents led by former SAG president Ed Asner, filed a class action lawsuit against the Plan and its trustees, saying that the changes “illegally discriminate based on age and violate the Age Discrimination and Employment Act of 1967” – a charge the trustees have flatly denied.

In a statement, the union said last night that the board rejected a demand “that it immediately commence litigation against certain member volunteers, elected leaders, staff members and Plan trustees with regard to the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan’s 2021 benefits changes.”

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