MEMBERSHIP FIRST: MATTHEW MODINE CANDIDATE FOR 2019 SAG-AFTRA PRESIDENT

MEMBERSHIPFIRST

2019 PLATFORM

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WELCOME!

Thank you for visiting our MembershipFirst Platform Page.

Elections are about choices.  Below you will find a broad overview of the many issues facing the SAG-AFTRA membership.  What follows is our vision for the future.

The most critical job of our union is to negotiate contracts with our employers.  The next big opportunity and challenge that we face is negotiating the upcoming 2020 TV/Theatrical Contract.  MembershipFirst is committed to taking a much more aggressive approach at the bargaining table.  We want to field a leadership team that truly understands the issues and will stand up to the employers who divide us, who use the soft language of intimidation and subtle threats that weaken our Union’s resolve. 

So please enjoy reading through our platform.  We are eager to make sure that your questions are answered.  We invite your input.  And we ask you to join us in starting a new chapter in the SAG-AFTRA story.  Vote MembershipFirst. 

 

SECTION I. CONCERNING CONTRACTS

 

 

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PROTECT OUR FUTURE

FORWARD-LOOKING CONTRACTS


ISSUE: We have lost hundreds of millions of dollars because our contracts have not kept pace with exhibition platforms as they have evolved. A change in leadership is imperative, in order to prevent history from repeating itself.

WHY IS THIS AN ISSUE? How we receive and watch entertainment (Broadcast Television, Cable-TV, DVD and Blu-Ray), are quickly becoming a thing of the past, as new streaming options and virtual reality experiences have become mainstream.  It is negligent to think we are always going to be entertained in the same way through film and television.

WHAT IS OUR SOLUTION? It is time to stop playing catch up and start getting ahead of the negotiating game.  We must anticipate the changes in industry technologies. Matthew Modine, Jodi Long and MembershipFirst have the vision, courage and conviction to forge ahead with all future contracts designed to capture any and all new platforms created to exhibit our work.  Our goal is to deliver stronger contracts that result in more money in your pocket and larger contributions into our Pension, Health and Retirement Plans.


IMPROVE OUR TV/THEATRICAL CONTRACTS


ISSUE: There is more scripted dramatic programming produced now than ever before... a lot more work, for a lot less money. Without smart and aggressive negotiators, our contracts will continue to erode.

WHY IS THIS AN ISSUE? The past few TV/Theatrical Negotiations have failed us in many areas. There have been way too many givebacks. Bringing the same negotiating leaders back to the bargaining table will only yield the same poorly negotiated results.

WHAT IS OUR SOLUTION? We will approach this negotiation from a position of strength and are determined to correct the mistakes of the past.


ENFORCE OUR CONTRACTS


ISSUE: SAG-AFTRA is supposed to protect its members when production fails to meet its contractual obligations. When it comes to enforcement, too many times members are left to fend for themselves.

WHY IS THIS AN ISSUE? There is a real threat of retribution and retaliation to performers who have to stand up for their contractual rights, on their own. It’s the Union’s duty to be our enforcer.

WHAT IS OUR SOLUTION? We have to fix the disconnect between what our employers are getting away with and our Union whose job it is to protect us. We will empower our staff to be aggressive in enforcing our contracts knowing they have a new, strong leadership supporting them.


FIGHT FOR RESIDUALS


ISSUE: For decades, residuals have been the lifeblood for performers. There have been many hard fought victories to ensure our financial well-being based on the continuing use of our performances. These formulas have eroded over the past 20 years. Countless amounts have been lost in made-for-cable residuals, Home-Video/DVD, and now New Media (Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, etc.) The residual formulas for all New Media demands action. It is imperative that our residuals for the future exhibition of our work fairly compensates us; wherever, or however, that work is viewed.

WHY IS THIS AN ISSUE?   We are losing untold monies because of these eroding residual formulas, making it harder to qualify for health insurance and earn pension credits.  Our pension is losing millions of dollars in contributions, causing it to continue to decline.

The 2017 negotiated SVOD increases in residuals only counted towards newly licensed shows (NOT episodes).  If you work on a high budget SVOD Amazon show like “Bosch” that has been in production for 4 years, you will never see any benefits from the 2017 increases.  Your residuals on these shows will be forever calculated and based on exceptionally low and poorly bargained rates.  The concept that only new shows, NOT new episodes of existing shows, get newly bargained increases has never happened before in our union’s history and we will not let it happen again.

WHAT IS OUR SOLUTION? Same work should receive the same pay. These degrading residual formulas starve your wallet and starve the pension and health plan. MembershipFirst believes in strong negotiations and protecting residuals.


BACKGROUND ACTORS


ISSUE: Background Actors are not protected nationally under all SAG-AFTRA contracts.  In addition, they do not have a guaranteed seat on the National Board, as do all other categories.

WHY IS THIS AN ISSUE? Every other performer has the benefits and protections of a union contract regardless of what part of the country (or the world) they work in, except Background Actors.  They are only protected in seven (7) zones in the United States: Los Angeles, New York, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Hawaii.  Outside of these zones, non-union performers are taking jobs that should go to union members.  In Atlanta alone, 455 projects were shot in 2018-19 with no union protection for background.  Some contracts, like the newly negotiated Telemundo deal specifically exclude background actors.

When production companies are allowed to use non-union performers instead of SAG-AFTRA members, the whole union suffers, not just background actors.  Every dollar earned by a non-union worker not only deprives a union member of a living wage, but also short-changes our pension and health funds.  In non-covered zones like Chicago and Atlanta, principal performers who need that one last job to qualify for benefits do not have the opportunity to work a background acting job to reach the threshold.

Background Actors are a fundamental constituency group within SAG-AFTRA, but unlike Dancers, Stunt Performers, Actors, Singers/Recording Artists, and Broadcasters, they do not have a guaranteed voice in the National Board room. Without this, Background Actors have struggled to have their basic needs met.  They are on an unequal footing with the rest of the membership and cannot even weigh in on matters that directly affect their lives and livelihoods.

WHAT IS OUR SOLUTION? MembershipFirst believes it is time for all members, whether they speak on camera or not, to have the same benefits, protections, and representation with a guaranteed board seat on the National Board. We will continue to advocate strongly in the boardrooms for Background Actor issues and insist that Background Actors be represented on negotiating committees including the TV/Theatrical, Music Video, Commercial, and Special Contract Negotiations.

  • MembershipFirst successfully pressed for adding coverage of Background Actors under the Music Videos contract.

  • MembershipFirst spearheaded the re-establishment of a separate Background Actor Department with a full staff of 7.

  • MembershipFirst pushed to update and expand the Background Digest.

  • MembershipFirst facilitated the distribution of smaller contracts rate sheets (which were previously unavailable) to Background Actors.

 
 

DANCERS


ISSUE: Dancers are losing contract benefits, wages, penalties and set safety consideration.

WHY IS THIS AN ISSUE? As Dancers lose benefits and protections that were fought for over the years, their principal status on the set diminishes.  Standards such as hazard pay, dressing rooms, rehearsal space, which were once written into contracts, are now having to be negotiated on set. If dancers speak up, there is often retaliation by employers.  Breaks and safety issues are being ignored causing more injuries.  Dancers are being relegated to parking lots or other unacceptable areas as holding areas or rehearsal spaces, with dangerous results.

WHAT IS OUR SOLUTION? As physical performers, it is time to have similar benefits, protections, and representation as do stunt performers, in terms of rehearsal time, safety, etc.  Implement the role of a guaranteed Dance Coordinator on the set, similar to a Stunt Coordinator, to determine if there are potential safety hazards, or if additional stipends, such as hazard pay, meal penalties, break penalties, etc. are due on set.  We will advocate strongly in the boardroom for Dancer issues and insist they are represented on all negotiating contract committees.

 
 

 SECTION II. INTERNAL UNION BUSINESS

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FIX THE SPLIT-EARNINGS GAP


WHY IS SPLIT-EARNINGS AN ISSUE? Performers continue to suffer from our earnings being split into TWO pension Plans.  The work we do in film funnels into our SAG Pension; while almost half (43%) of our work in television funnels into our AFTRA Retirement Fund. Below is an example of how a member who qualifies for our top health insurance plan would be unable to qualify for a pension credit in either Plan and would be ineligible to receive future benefits from earnings that year. 

  • $22,000.00 is required to earn 1 annual SAG pension credit 

  • $15,000.00 is required to earn 1 annual AFTRA pension credit

  • $22,000.00 + $15,000.00 = $37,000.00 required earnings to receive both pension credits

  • A member can earn up to $36,998 and earn zero pension credits in either Plan.

In other words, in a certain year you can earn $21,999 in SAG work, and $14,999 in AFTRA work and qualify for nothing.

WHAT IS OUR SOLUTION? Membership First understands the profound importance of this split-earnings issue and how it affects our retirement security. It is a top priority for us to push the trustees to fix this broken system.

ATTENTION YOUNG PERFORMERS: This disproportionately affects YOU, who work but may never qualify for a pension. You may not be thinking about it now, but when retirement rolls around and there is nothing there for you, it will matter.


BE SMART WITH OUR MONEY

Owning vs. Renting


ISSUE: A staggering $6 million per year is being spent on renting our SAG-AFTRA offices in Los Angeles alone. Many more millions of dollars are also wasted annually on office rents around the country. Additionally, our membership’s money has been wasted renovating offices that we do not own.

WHY IS THIS AN ISSUE? Because in past decades, while we have been paying rent, we could have purchased our own building with all the equity, appreciation and security that comes along with it. The DGA, WGA, Actors Equity, IATSE, Musicians Local 47, Teamsters 399--even our SAG-AFTRA Pension and Health Plan--own their offices.

WHAT IS OUR SOLUTION? Own our offices. We won’t hide from the responsibility of ownership. Instead, we will take the natural step of acquiring real estate assets, consistent with good judgment and sound financial planning. The equity we can accrue opens up endless possibilities. Imagine the buying power that could re-open local brick-and-mortar offices across the country closed by the current leadership.


PENSION EQUITY


ISSUE: Our Pension and Retirement Plans secretly benefit certain participants more than others.

A BRIEF HISTORY: In 2004 the National Board welcomed our Staff into our SAG Pension Plan.  At that time all members of our SAG Pension Plan (including our Staff) accrued at 3.5%.  After the 2008 economic meltdown, SAG Pension Trustees had to take drastic action: “The pension accrual rate will be reduced from its current 3.5% to 2.0% of Covered Earnings.” * 

This action was implemented January 1, 2010. We have since discovered, at our own expense, that no reduction was ever implemented for our Staff.  To this day we--the Members--are still accruing at 2% while our Staff has continued to accrue at 3.5%.  Unbeknownst to Member Participants, SAG Pension Trustees created this elite group within The Plan.

*Reference:  Take-2, Volume XVII, Number 2, Summer 2009.

WHY IS THIS AN ISSUE? MembershipFirst believes that SAG Pension Trustees should protect all SAG Pension Plan Participants equally. It’s a simple question of fairness and equality:  Our Members must work much longer, and earn much more, to receive a lesser benefit than our own employees.  This was never the understanding of the Member Participants of The Plan and must be corrected.

EXAMPLE: You, as a Member Participant, have to wait 10 years longer to retire with full benefits and receive thousands of dollars less than our Staff. Below is an example:

  • SAG member:  Working from age 35 to 55.  Earning $50,000 per year.  Retiring at age 55.  Gets $14,000 per year.  (30% reduction in benefit from age 65 to 55.)           

  • AFTRA member:  Working from age 35 to 55.  Earning $50,000 per year.  Retiring at age 55.  Gets $4,000 per year.  (60% reduction in benefit from age 65 to 55.)           

  • Staff member:  Working from age 35 to 55.  Earning $50,000 per year.  Retiring at age 55. Gets $35,000 per year.  (NO reduction in benefit at age 55.)

The preceding is based on the Staff’s Rule of 75* benefit vs. the SAG member participant accrual rate of 2% of earnings, and the AFTRA member participant accrual rate of approximately 1% of earnings.

*THE RULE OF 75: This is an additional benefit for Staff who have a combination of Age-and-Service that adds up to 75. (20 years of service at 55 years of age would be 75.) When a Staff person hits the Rule of 75 a whole new deal appears: Here, the Staff person receives a pension benefit equal to their last 5 years of earnings averaged, with a maximum annual benefit of $225,000. The SAG Members’ annual maximum is $96,000 at age 65 with 35 vested years.

WHAT IS OUR SOLUTION? Our current Trustees have known about this pension inequity for nearly a decade and have allowed this secret to remain in effect. MembershipFirst will take every action to correct this imbalance.

ATTENTION STUNT PERFORMERS: A career in stunts demands a high level of physicality and risk, culminating in premature wear and tear to the body. Our Pension and Retirement Plans fail to acknowledge the unique demands that are placed upon stunt performers. Having longevity in a stunt career is extremely rare and uniquely difficult. Therefore we believe our Trustees must allow Stunt Performers to take full retirement without reduction at age 55.


COMBAT SEXUAL HARASSMENT


ISSUE: Ask yourself this: Do you feel protected by your union? Sexual harassment, coercion and assault are still rampant in the entertainment industry. 94% of women in the entertainment industry surveyed by USA TODAY (February 23, 2018) say they’ve experienced harassment or assault. Workplace and industry-wide safety has not been prioritized for women and men to the degree that it should have been, and there is a shocking lack of urgency toward implementing the necessary changes.

WHY IS THIS AN ISSUE? The current lack of transparency in the reporting process protects predators rather than the member-survivor.  Survivors have neither received adequate support from our union, nor a proper arena to voice their concerns.  When reporting set or audition transgressions, traumatized victims have to relive and retell their story multiple times.  The current policy disregards the latest research on trauma. Retaliation against survivors is real.

WHAT IS OUR SOLUTION? The safety of our members, whether physical or emotional, is of paramount concern.  We are proud that MembershipFirst was the driving force in initiating the first Sexual Harassment Task Force and the first-ever Sexual Harassment Caucus. 

  • Mandate Intimacy Coordinators on every set when appropriate under negotiated union contracts with penalties for non-compliance.

  • Streamline the reporting process: revamp the existing emergency hotline to be answered by trauma-informed therapists, not by an answering service that refers to an outside agency, as is currently the case.

  • Provide members an impartial, anonymous and retaliation-free reporting platform that tracks repeat abusers and provides legal and other resources.

  • Member-to-member complaints:  A third-party impartial investigative team should be engaged whenever a member-to-member sexual harassment, assault or coercion complaint is lodged. 

  • Provide education to the membership about the issues of sexual harassment and make them aware of the resources available when problems arise.

  • At the start of production, require an all cast, crew and production safety meeting regarding sexual harassment. Distribute handouts of rules and regulations regarding sexual harassment definitions, penalties, reporting guidelines, etc., to all cast, crew, and production entities. As a condition of employment a Signature of Compliance would be required.

  • Require posting of state and federal laws concerning sexual harassment in common areas: i.e., craft services, hair and make-up, wardrobe, production, background holding areas, and bathrooms.

MembershipFirst will continue to lead the fight to protect our members from sexual abuse and misconduct. We will work with independent organizations to provide all members the ability to report privately, hold repeat offenders accountable, and most importantly, heal. 


RESTORE TRANSPARENCY


ISSUE: The current leadership uses the “cloak of confidentiality” to limit your ability to know what is actually going on and limits the ability to tell you.  For 20 years there has been a “Minority Report” Rule* ensuring that when 25% or more of the National Board voted against a contract, the Minority could send out a “Minority Report.”  The current leadership raised the threshold to 33%, making it even harder to get the pros and cons of a contract presented to you. 

*Minority Report definitionA separate report presented by members of a committee or other group who disagree with the majority.

Do you ever wonder about those shiny postcards you receive, paid for with your dues money--telling you how to vote--with no actual information? Each postcard mailing costs the Union approximately $45,000; and over $180,000 was spent pushing our 2017 TV/Theatrical contract.

WHY IS THIS AN ISSUE? Without a Minority Report, you are limited in your ability to make a fully informed and educated decision about your contract. 

WHAT IS OUR SOLUTION? MembershipFirst will reverse the practice of the current leadership keeping vital information from you, enabling you to be an educated and informed member.  

 

 

SECTION III. SERVING THE MEMBERSHIP

 
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FOUR AREAS OF ACTION TO SUPPORT OUR MEMBERS


Contracts and enforcement, financial health, our pension and health plans, and our working conditions are all vitally important, but we acknowledge that the vast majority of our members are aspiring to book enough union work to qualify for pension and healthcare and experience our contracts firsthand.

We are committed to helping our members with their quality of life, education and employment. By ensuring we have the best leadership, we can finally harness the power of a merged union for our collective benefit.

Our current projects intend to make sure our members feel the value of their SAG-AFTRA membership every day and help them be more successful and fulfilled in their artistic endeavors.


1. SERVICES AND OPPORTUNITIES

HELP OUR MEMBERS WITH THEIR PROFESSIONAL AND FINANCIAL WELL BEING.


FREE SELF TAPING

Our LA Conservatory offers free self-taping for members two days a week. We have served over 250 members in the last year alone. We need to expand that service to every day and across all Locals, so potentially our members can save hundreds of dollars a month on another cost pushed onto us by production.

DEALS/DISCOUNTS

We have over a thousand discounts that can save our members a couple grand a year if they just use them. But they do not know about them because they are scattered across four websites. We need to organize those discounts by type (electronics), brand (Sony), and vendor (Best Buy), and make them easily searchable on the SAG-AFTRA website and mobile app. Then we need to target and negotiate new discounts to save our members money on every expense associated with our industry, like self-taping, for example. We already have a team of volunteers who have created a list of every self-taping facility in LA. We can easily negotiate a discount for union members. That’s one of dozens of areas we can organize to save our members money. 

MEMBER SERVICE DIRECTORY

Keep the money in the family. We are already building an online directory where members can list their side-hustles so members can hire other members for non-performer-related work. Accounting, painting, plumbing, tech support, etc. Hire a fellow SAG-AFTRA member and help them sustain themselves on this journey.

MEMBER WORK/REHEARSAL SPACE

Our members constantly need space to work, rehearse, and collaborate with each other and our partners in film-making. It would be incredible to have a work-space available to our members not unlike a shared work space like WeWork. Our members could benefit from having access to such a space, especially for those who cannot be productive at home due to lack of space, family, roommates, children, neighbors, or other issues.


2. EDUCATION

HELP OUR MEMBERS BE THE MOST SKILLED, EXPERIENCED, AND STRATEGIC ARTISTS.


NATIONAL CONSERVATORY EXPANSION

Our union has a duty to coordinate continuing education for our members with our existing National and Local Conservatory structure. We will create strong, vibrant Conservatories across the 25 Locals with live-streamed classes, sending our best educators around the country to bring top-tier market expertise to the smaller Locals. This will include self-taping, studios for on-camera and voice-over classes, with a robust curriculum of craft and business classes available to all members nationwide.

HIGH PROFILE GUEST INSTRUCTORS

High profile performers are willing to volunteer their time to teach. We just have to ask them. Nothing is as powerful to an aspiring performer as to have one of the greats share their knowledge and craft with them personally one-on-one. In the past year, we have had Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Matthew Modine, Eric Lutes, Frances Fisher, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Patricia Richardson, Bryan Cranston, Fred Melamed, Ransford Doherty, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., and others guest teach, which was an inspiring interaction for all who were involved.


3. EMPLOYMENT

HELP OUR MEMBERS BUILD CASTING, REPRESENTATION, AND INDUSTRY RELATIONSHIPS THAT LEAD TO EMPLOYMENT.


CASTING SOCIETY OF AMERICA CLASSES

The CSA itself has approached the LA Local with a desire to teach classes for the LA Conservatory. Our members are craving access to casting, especially since the top work is packaged by the Big 4 (CAA, WME, ICM, UTA) and casting director workshops came under attack last year leading to all but a few workshop facilities closing. Members nationwide need access to casting to build those relationships and to successfully create that partnership.

WGA TABLE READS

For the past two years, we have been producing table reads through the LA Conservatory for WGA writers, cast with our members by CSA casting directors. Expanding that program across the nation is such a simple and powerful way to collaborate with our partners in film-making at the WGA. WGA writers are the most powerful producers of television and films. Building those relationships is both important and easy to do.

CASTING & AGENT SHOWCASES

We will strive to abide by the terms of our TV/Theatrical Contract which mandates that casting and agent showcases take place. So many of our members are seeking representation. SAG-AFTRA absolutely should have the best in-person and digital showcases in the business. We already have a volunteer group developing casting director and agency showcases to help our members get repped and connect with casting. As part of this, we are developing a monologue database from network TV and feature films, and a monologue class to help members prepare their best work for participating industry pros.


4. LEADERSHIP

ENSURE WE HAVE FAIR ELECTIONS AND THE BEST LEADERSHIP.


ELECTION REFORM

Right now, our election system is effectively broken. Candidates are intentionally run for office by the current leadership who immediately resign and give their seats away to party insiders. Right now, you can’t have any confidence that who you vote for is who will serve, if elected. The costs of campaigning are so high it effectively prevents all but those in political parties, who group fund-raise, from communicating with members during elections.

MAKE COMMITTEE SYSTEM MORE INCLUSIVE

Right now, approximately 500 members who want to volunteer to serve our union and add their experience and energy to our leadership are turned away from committee service while political party insiders sit on as many as 17 committees. We have committees and operations responsible for crucial services for our members that are constantly stalled and delayed, sometimes for YEARS because so much control has been consolidated into so few political insiders’ hands. We need to restrict the number of committees any one member can serve on or chair. Let’s ensure that we are making the most of our committees by opening the doors to allow the brilliant energy of our members in.

 

 

 

SECTION IV. NEXT STEPS

 
 
 
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MembershipFirst is pleased to present our approach to the issues outlined above, so that voters in the 2019 SAG-AFTRA Election understand who we are, our vision and how we will fight for your rights. Due to strategic sensitivities and confidentiality obligations, there are many other issues and points of interest that we have not included in this online platform at this time. Stay tuned for updates.

MembershipFirst is an inclusive group and we invite our membership to help us create a stronger and more thorough approach to governing our union by making sure that every single member’s interests are represented. We care about your thoughts, and encourage you to speak up and give us feedback on issues that matter to you.

Click on FEEDBACK or you may write to MembershipFirstPR@gmail.com and share your thoughts with us.


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