The ABCs Of SAG: Do They Really Spell Strike?

Screen Actors Guild members and supporters rally in Los Angeles shortly before the union's contract was set to expire. The guild is pressing producers for new-media residuals, higher minimum rates for actors and better pensions.
Screen Actors Guild members and supporters rally in Los Angeles shortly before the union's contract was set to expire. The guild is pressing producers for new-media residuals, higher minimum rates for actors and better pensions. (By David Mcnew -- Getty Images)

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By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 30, 2008

Q: Whoa!? Are the Hollywood actors going on strike?

A: Not yet. The Screen Actors Guild's three-year contract expires today. The actors union and the movie and television producers have been negotiating a new deal for weeks. The actors and their studio bosses are fighting over a super complex formula involving --

-- Money?

Very perceptive. The actors are beating the tom-toms, and Tinseltown is bracing for possible picket lines. But a strike, if it comes, is likely several weeks away.

Isn't George Clooney going to save the day?

The Clooney is trying. He issued a public appeal Thursday pleading with the two sides to lay down their rhetorical arms. "What we can't do is pit artist against artist," Clooney wrote.

Wait -- actors vs. actors. Sounds hot. What show are you talking about?

There are actually two "sister unions" representing actors, the littler American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and the bigger Screen Actors Guild (SAG). The two guilds have traditionally negotiated their deals side by side with the studios, but this year there was a spat between the sisters and they're no longer on speaking terms.

The studios must be loving that.

It gets worse. There are 70,000 members in AFTRA. There are 120,000 members in SAG. There are 44,000 people who belong to both unions. AFTRA reached a tentative agreement with the studios. SAG is now asking its "dual-card" members who belong to AFTRA to reject that contract, saying it weakens their position at the bargaining table and calling the deal "not good enough." The national executive director of AFTRA, Kim Roberts Hedgpeth, countered by calling the SAG meddling "appalling," "shameful" and "a disgrace." Results of the AFTRA vote are expected July 8.

Wait. There are 120,000 actors?

There's an old joke in Hollywood. What do you call a SAG member? Waiter. Anyway. The vast majority of SAG card holders do not make their living on-screen. Two-thirds of them earn less than $1,000 a year. Fewer than 20 percent earn more than $7,500 a year. A very small percentage at the top earn most of the money, like Clooney.


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