SAG-AFTRA boss: Actors need protection from forced exclusivity

For too long, oppressive studio contracts that enforce exclusivity have prevented the show’s regular cast from earning a living, especially during extended breaks in a show.

You will not be paid during the inter-season queue, but you will not be allowed to take any other paying jobs either. These contracts mean actors are often left unemployed, struggling to pay their bills and unable to build a career. Performers from underrepresented groups, who already have fewer opportunities and often lower episode rates, are hit hardest by these practices.

How can California – a state so often championing workers’ rights – allow such a system to continue? The rules allowing exclusivity were negotiated in the past era of the big three networks of television, when a series had 22 to 26 episodes per season and seasons were produced on an annual calendar. According to this old model, the series’ regular actors were employed almost year-round, with long production periods and short breaks, making their employment similar to other full-time jobs. This world has long since changed. Today, a season of a television series rarely contains more than 10 episodes, and there are many months or even years of unpaid waiting before a next season goes into production.

Rather than adapting to the changing model ushered in by streaming and allowing series actors to work and earn a living during these long production hiatuses, studios have chosen to continue to demand draconian forms of exclusivity. By forcing actors to remain idle and unable to practice their craft, they lose opportunities and stun the momentum needed to advance their careers.

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SAG-AFTRA, the union representing these actors, has been trying to overhaul these outdated collective bargaining exclusivity rules for well over a decade. The studios firmly refused. With no other choice, we turned to the California Legislature for help.

The LAW Act, AB 437, began its journey in Sacramento over 20 months ago, and as the bill made its way through the assembly and on to the Senate, new versions were created that directly addressed the needs of studios and streamers. These efforts are the result of extensive discussions with these employers, and the bill now under consideration in the Senate is narrowly tailored to right the wrongs of forced unemployment.

But now the Motion Picture Association is ignoring the hard work that went into nearly two years to develop this law and is fighting it, threatening that it will “disrupt business practices” and “bring down.” [film and TV] to a standstill”, leading to job losses.

Make no mistake, this is the same argument studios have used to justify unreasonable, unfair and unscrupulous practices since the industry’s inception. Just as it was wrong in the 1940s, this statement is wrong today.

The MPA, in a comment published Aug. 1 diversity, describes the present as the “golden age” of film and television franchises. But just like the earlier “golden age” of film, these periods have a dark side. Their success stems from the unfair and unacceptable treatment of actors and artists, as studios lock performers into multi-year, multi-project contracts that limit their employment and make it impossible for them to escape.

It’s not just the union working to change things. Agents, talent, managers, and attorneys have all tried in vain to terminate or limit the use of these exclusive agreements, but they are becoming more common. Without clear legislative action, the film and television industry will revert to a power imbalance not seen in decades. The entire California workforce believes the law is a necessary minimum standard to ensure a balance between industry and workers.

Faced with the prospect of lawmakers poised to take action, the studios eventually — and reluctantly — agreed to return to the negotiating table. We have little reason to view this move as more than a delaying tactic and an attempt to prove to California senators that there is no need for legislative action. The truth is, to this day, the studios, with the exception of Netflix, have yet to agree to right this wrong. Thank you Netflix for reinforcing and demonstrating that these provisions can be addressed in a way that works for both parties.

The idea of ​​studios changing their practices without legislative intervention is foolish and can be summed up simply with the old adage: Actions speak louder than words.

The legislature should not be fooled.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland is the National Executive of SAG-AFTRA, which represents more than 160,000 performers in film, television, radio news, commercials, music, video games and other media. SAG-AFTRA boss: Actors need protection from forced exclusivity

Charles Jones

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