The Screen Actors Guild appreciates the Times' ongoing coverage of the SAG-AFTRA negotiations with producers for a new contract covering film and television performers. It was a difficult negotiation, and an important one for this industry. The unions (indeed the entire industry) were greatly relieved that we could reach an early agreement to keep production rolling.
Robert Welkos' Feb. 25 story about the resulting pay cut for some extras was accurate ("Pact Would Cut Pay of TV, Movie Extras") but missed a much more significant point: For the vast majority of extras, the new contract represents a 50% pay increase.
For the past several years, substantially all of the extra work in the West has been completely non-union. Producers were willing to pay extras only $42--the state minimum wage--for a day's work. In the absence of a strong union, these extras received no health insurance or pension benefits, and the working conditions were completely unregulated.
Since the Screen Extras Guild reached an impasse with producers in 1990, only six companies were paying the old SEG rate of $86 a day. The 300 other companies represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers paid non-union extras only the $42 rate.
If SAG and AFTRA had been unable to achieve recognition from the Alliance, the six companies paying the $86 rate would have immediately implemented the industry-wide $42 rate.
Through the new SAG agreement with the Alliance, all 300 of those companies will now pay the SAG extra rate of $65. That's a pay increase of more than a 50% for most extras, and a huge increase in the number of union employers.
In order to re-establish benefits and reunite all actors and extras under one strong contract, SAG and AFTRA had to accept a reduction in pay for the fortunate few extras who were getting the old union rates. We certainly regret this necessity, but nothing more was possible without a crippling, industry-wide strike, which absolutely nobody wanted.
In these troubled economic times, it takes a herculean effort to expand union jurisdiction and make any gains at all. Realistic collective bargaining requires compromise, and that always leaves both sides somewhat dissatisfied. In this case, the unions and management worked together to bring union benefits and protections to an overwhelmingly non-union profession.
The majority of extras will soon find more union work with better benefits and protection, and producers will gain value from the professionalism of experienced union performers.