The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is an American labor union representing over 120,000 film and television principal performers and background performers worldwide. According to SAG's Mission Statement, the Guild seeks to: negotiate and enforce collective bargaining agreements that establish equitable levels of compensation, benefits, and working conditions for its performers; collect compensation for exploitation of recorded performances by its members, and provide protection against unauthorized use of those performances; and preserve and expand work opportunities for its members.
The Guild was founded in 1933 in an effort to eliminate exploitation of actors in Hollywood who were being forced into oppressive multi-year contracts with the major movie studios that did not include restrictions on work hours or minimum rest periods, and often had clauses that automatically renewed at the studios' discretion. These contracts were notorious for allowing the studios to dictate the public and private lives of the performers who signed them, and most did not have provisions to allow the performer to end the deal.
The Screen Actors Guild is associated with the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (AAAA), which is the primary association of performer's unions in the United States. The AAAA is affiliated with the AFL-CIO. SAG claims exclusive jurisdiction over motion picture performances, and shares jurisdiction of radio, television, Internet, and other new media with its sister union AFTRA, with which it shares 44,000 dual members.
In addition to its main offices in Hollywood, SAG also maintains local branches in several major US cities, including: Phoenix, Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Nashville, Atlanta, Miami, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Detroit, Denver, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Seattle, Portland, Las Vegas, Honolulu, and San Francisco.
Since 1995, the guild has annually awarded the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which are considered an indicator of success at the Academy Awards.
History of the Guild
The early years
In 1925, the Masquers Club
was formed by actors fed up with the grueling work hours at the Hollywood studios
, particularly for actors without contracts.
This was one major concern, which led to the creation of the Screen Actors Guild in 1933. Another was that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which at that time arbitrated between the producers and actors on contract disputes, had a membership policy which was by invitation only.
A meeting in March 1933 among six actors started it all: Berton Churchill, Charles Miller, Grant Mitchell, Ralph Morgan, Alden Gay, and Kenneth Thomson. Three months later, three of those six and eighteen others became the guild's first officers and board of directors: Ralph Morgan (its first president), Alden Gay, Kenneth Thomson, Alan Mowbray (who personally funded the organization when it was first founded), Leon Ames, Tyler Brooke, Clay Clement, James Gleason, Lucile Webster Gleason, Boris Karloff (reportedly influenced by long hours suffered during the filming of Frankenstein), Claude King, Noel Madison, Reginald Mason, Bradley Page, Willard Robertson, Ivan Simpson, C. Aubrey Smith, Charles Starrett, Richard Tucker, Arthur Vinton, Morgan Wallace and Lyle Talbot.
Many high-profile actors refused to join SAG initially. This changed when the producers made an agreement amongst themselves not to bid competitively for talent. A pivotal meeting at the home of Frank Morgan (Ralph's brother, who would go on to play the title role in The Wizard of Oz), is what gave SAG its critical mass. Prompted by Eddie Cantor's insistence at that meeting that any response to that producer's agreement help all actors, not just the already established ones, it took only three weeks for SAG membership to go from around 80 members to more than 4000. Cantor's participation was critical, particularly because of his friendship with the recently-elected Franklin Roosevelt. After several years and the passage of the National Labor Relations Act, the producers agreed to negotiate with SAG in 1937.
Actors known for their early support of SAG (besides the founders) include Edward Arnold, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Dudley Digges, Porter Hall, Paul Harvey, Jean Hersholt, Russell Hicks, Murray Kinnell, Gene Lockhart, Bela Lugosi, Fredric March, Adolphe Menjou, Chester Morris, Jean Muir, George Murphy, Erin O'Brien-Moore, Irving Pichel, Dick Powell, Edward G. Robinson, Edwin Stanley, Gloria Stuart, Lyle Talbot, Franchot Tone, Warren William, and Robert Young.
The blacklist years
In October 1947, a list of suspected communists
working in the Hollywood film industry were summoned to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities
(HUAC), which was investigating Communist influence in the Hollywood labor unions
. Ten of those summoned refused to cooperate and were charged with contempt of Congress
and sentenced to prison. The President of the SAG – future United States President Ronald Reagan
– testified before the committee but never publicly named names. A climate of fear, enhanced by the threat of detention under the provisions of the McCarran Internal Security Act
, permeated the film industry. On November 17, 1947, the Screen Actors Guild voted to force its officers take a "non-communist" pledge. On November 25th (the day after the full House approved the ten citations for contempt) in what has become known as the Waldorf Statement
, Eric Johnston
, President of the Motion Picture Producers Association, issued a press release
: "We will not knowingly employ a Communist or a member of any party or group which advocates the overthrow of the government of the United States by force or by any illegal or unconstitutional methods."
None of those blacklisted were proven to advocate overthrowing the government; most simply had Marxist or socialist views. The Waldorf Statement marked the beginning of the Hollywood blacklist that saw hundreds of people prevented from working in the film industry. During the height of what is now referred to as McCarthyism, the Screen Writers Guild gave the studios the right to omit from the screen the name of any individual who had failed to clear his name before Congress. At a 1997 ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Blacklist, the Guild's president made this statement:
Only our sister union, Actors Equity Association, had the courage to stand behind its members and help them continue their creative lives in the theater. ... Unfortunately, there are no credits to restore, nor any other belated recognition that we can offer our members who were blacklisted. They could not work under assumed names or employ surrogates to front for them. An actor's work and his or her identity are inseparable. Screen Actors Guild's participation in tonight's event must stand as our testament to all those who suffered that, in the future, we will strongly support our members and work with them to assure their rights as defined and guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.|30px|30px|Richard Masur|Hollywood Remembers the Blacklist
SAG rules and procedures
A performer is eligible to join the Screen Actors Guild by meeting the criteria in any of the following three categories:
Any performer who works as a principal performer for a minimum of one day on a project (film, commercial, TV show, etc.) where the producer has signed a producer's agreement with SAG, and the performer has been paid at the appropriate SAG daily, three-day, or weekly rate is then considered "SAG-Eligible." A SAG-Eligible performer may continue performing in any number of both SAG or non-SAG productions for a period of 30 days, during which that SAG-Eligible performer is classified as a "Taft-Hartley
." After the 30-day Taft-Hartley period has expired, the performer may not work on any further SAG productions until the performer joins the Guild by: paying the initiation fee, paying the first half-year minimum membership dues, and agreeing to abide by the Guild's rules and bylaws. The SAG-Eligible performer does not lose their eligibility to join the Guild should they choose not to join the Guild immediately at the expiration of their Taft-Hartley period. However if not part of a union it is difficult to get a speaking role that would comprise the Taft-Hartley law because the producer can be fined for allowing a non union actor to deliver a line.
SAG productions require a minimum number of SAG members be employed as background performers before a producer is permitted to hire
a non-union background performer in their production. For television productions, the minimum number of SAG background performers is 19, and for feature films, the minimum is 50. Often, due to the uniqueness of a role, or constraints on the numbers of available SAG performers or last-minute cancellations, those minimums are unable to be met. When this happens, producers
are permitted to fill one or more of those union spots with non-union performers. The non-union performer chosen to fill the union spot is then issued a union extra voucher
for the day, and that non-union performer is entitled to all the same benefits
and pay that the union performer would have received under that voucher. After collecting three valid union vouchers for three separate days of work, a non-union performer then becomes SAG-Eligible. The SAG-Eligible background performer may continue working in non-union productions and is not required to join the Guild before performing in another SAG production as a background performer. According to the FAQ
on the SAG website, this "three voucher rule" is in the process of being phased out.
Member of an affiliated union
Members in good standing, for at least one year, of any of the other unions affiliated with the AAAA
, and who have worked as a principal at least once in an area of the affiliated union's jurisdiction, and who have been paid for their work in that principal role, are eligible to join SAG. However, in late 2007, representatives of the political group which controls SAG threatened to change this rule, unless another of the AAAA unions, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), agreed to concessions to SAG. AFTRA rejected the demand, but the rule has not as of this writing been changed.
Initiation fee and membership dues
The initial fee to join the Guild is a one-time charge of $2,277. At the time of initiation, the first minimum semi-annual membership dues payment of $58 must also be paid, bringing the total amount due upon initiation into the Guild to $2,335.
Membership dues are calculated and are due semi-annually, and are based upon the member's earnings from SAG productions. The minimum annual dues amount is $116, with an additional 1.85% of the performer's income up to $200K. Income from $200K to $500K is assessed at 0.5%, and income from $500K to $1M is assessed at 0.25%. For the calculation of dues, there is a total earnings cap at $1M. Therefore, the maximum dues payable in any one calendar year by any single member is limited to $6,566.
SAG members who become delinquent in their dues without formally requesting a leave of absence from the Guild are assessed late penalties, and risk being ejected from the Guild and can be forced to pay the initiation fee again to regain their membership.
Global Rule One
The SAG Constitution and Bylaws state that, "No member shall work as a performer or make an agreement to work as a performer for any producer who has not executed a basic minimum agreement with the Guild which is in full force and effect." Every SAG performer agrees to abide by this, and all the other SAG rules, as a condition of membership into the Guild. This means that no SAG members may perform in non-union projects that are within SAG's jurisdiction once they become members of the Guild.
Since 2002, the Guild has pursued a policy of world-wide enforcement of Rule One, and renamed it Global Rule One. The political party now in control of the Guild claims that this global policy has enabled it to collect millions in additional residuals for its members and in contributions to the Guild's pension and health plans, but others suggest it has merely led to more production outside the United States, where Global Rule One is interpreted to allow foreign union or non-union local hires to work alongside a few SAG members who are imported under what is deemed a SAG contract.
Member benefits and privileges
SAG contracts with producers contain a variety of protections for Guild performers. Among these provisions are: minimum rates of pay, first class airfare
and travel insurance
, adequate working conditions, strict safety requirements, special protection and education
requirements for minors
of disputes and grievances
, and affirmative action
Standardized pay and work conditions
All members of the Guild agree to work only for producers who have signed contracts with SAG. These contracts spell out in detail the responsibilities that producers must assume when hiring SAG performers. Specifically, the SAG basic contract specifies: the number of hours performers may work, the frequency of meal
breaks required, the minimum wages
or "scale" at which performers must be compensated for their work, overtime
pay, travel accommodations
pay, private dressing rooms
, and adequate rest periods between performances.
The Producers Pension and Health Plans
Performers who meet the eligibility criteria of working a certain number of days or attaining a certain threshold in income derived from SAG productions can join the Producers Pension and Health Plans offered by the Guild. The eligibility requirements vary by age of the performer and the desired plan chosen (there are two health plans). There is also Dental
, and Life
coverage included as part of the two plans.
The Guild secures residuals
payments in perpetuity to its members for broadcast
and re-broadcast of films, TV shows
, and TV commercials
through clauses in the basic SAG agreements with producers.
Major strikes and boycotts by the union
In July 1948, a strike was averted at the last minute as the SAG and major producers agreed upon a new collective bargaining contract. The major points agreed upon include: full union shop for actors to continue, negotiations for films sent direct to tv, producers cannot sue an actor for breach of contract if s/he strikes (but the guild can only strike when the contract expires).
In March 1960, SAG went on strike against the 7 major studios. This was the first industry-wide strike in the 50-year history of movie making. Earlier walkouts involved production for television. The WGA had been on strike since January 31, 1960 with similar demands to the actors. The independents were not affected since they signed new contracts. The dispute rests on actors wanting to be paid 6% or 7% of the gross earnings of pictures made since 1948 and sold to television. Actors also want a pension and welfare fund.
In December 1978, members of SAG went on strike for the fourth time in its 45-year history. It joined the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in picket lines in Los Angeles and New York. The unions said that management's demand would cut actors' salaries. The argument was over filming commercials. Management agreed to up salaries from $218 to $250 per scene, but if the scene were not used at all, the actor would not be paid.
Strike and Emmy Awards boycott of 1980
In July, SAG members walked out on strike, along with AFTRA, the union for television and radio artists, and the American Federation of Musicians. The union joined the television artists in calling for a successful boycott
against that year's prime-time Emmy awards
. Powers Boothe
was the only one of the 52 nominated actors to attend: "This is either the most courageous moment of my career or the stupidest" he quipped during his acceptance speech. The guild ratified a new pact, for a 32.25% increase in minimum salaries and a 4.5% share of movies made for pay TV, and the strike ended on October 25.
The commercials strike of 2000
The commercials strike of 2000 was extremely controversial. Some factions within SAG call it a success, asserting that it not only saved Pay-Per-Play (residuals) but it also increased cable residuals by 140% up from $1,014 to $2,460. Others suggest almost identical terms were available in negotiation without a strike. In the wake of the strike, SAG, and its sister union AFTRA, gathered evidence on over 1,500 non-members who had worked during the strike. SAG trial boards found Elizabeth Hurley
and Tiger Woods
guilty of performing in non-union commercials and both were fined $100,000 each.
Predicted strike of 2008
The film industry is anticipating a strike by SAG, in addition to the recently resolved writers strike
. The strike, which could occur after the expiration of SAG's major contracts in June 2008, would stem from the current handling of royalties from the sale of films distributed through new media
methods. This includes royalties earned from Internet distribution services such as iTunes
, as well as DVD sales, neither of which are currently written into actors', writers', and directors' contracts. The strike date of July 2008 was chosen due to its coinciding with the expiration of several contracts between SAG and AMPTP.
Production companies are bracing for the strike by accelerating production of films and television episodes, in an effort to stockpile enough material to continue regular film releases and TV schedules during the strike period. A list of 300 high-priority film projects is reportedly circulating around talent agencies in accordance with this effort. See the reported list here
Beyond the major studios
SAG members may not work on non-union productions; many film schools
have SAG Student Film Agreements with the guild to allow SAG actors to work in their projects. SAGIndie was formed in 1997 to promote Independent filmmaking using SAG actors; SAG also has Low Budget Contracts that are meant to encourage the use of SAG members on films produced outside of the major studios and to prevent film productions from leaving the country. ("Runaway Production") In the fight against "Runaway Production", The SAG National Board recently voted unanimously to support the Film & Television Action Committee (FTAC) and its 301(a) Petition which asks the US Trade Representative to investigate the current Canadian film subsidies for their violation of the Trade agreements Canada already signed with the United States.