SAG-AFTRA’s Lobbying Efforts Helped Seal Exclusivity Deals With Netflix & AMPTP

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A confluence of hard bargaining and legislative lobbying helped secure significant gains in two new agreements SAG-AFTRA reached earlier this month covering exclusivity, which are standard provisions in TV contracts that can hold TV series regulars off the market and unable to work for unreasonably long periods of time, guild leaders said in a podcast released on Thursday.

Earlier this week, the union reached an agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers on new exclusivity provisions, and SAG-AFTRA’s national board will meet on Saturday to approve it. The guild also reached a tentative agreement with Netflix earlier this month that includes new exclusivity terms, and members are now voting to ratify it.

SAG-AFTRA leaders, however, say their lobbying for a bill that’s nearing the finish line in the California legislature is what that finally got the companies to move on the issue. That guild-sponsored bill – AB 437 – dubbed the Let Actors Work (LAW) Act, would sharply limit exclusivity in TV actors’ deals.

“The fact of the matter is that our legislative activities gave us the leverage that we needed to accomplish a lot of what was done in this negotiation about options and exclusivity,” said SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland during the guild’s podcast about the new Netflix agreement. “And sometimes I do hear from members who ask: ‘Why do we have lobbying? Why do we have a legislative program? How is that what we should be really doing as a union?’ And I think this is the perfect example. Here, our legislative activities line up directly with our contract negotiations. They’re about core terms that our members are working under as performers in this industry.”

Speaking on the podcast about the new Netflix agreement, Ray Rodriquez, the guild’s chief contracts officer, agreed that those negotiations got a big boost from the pending legislation.

“The changes that we achieved in the area of options and exclusivity – we have been trying to make these improvements for more than 10 years in collective bargaining,” he said. “We’ve made extraordinary efforts; we’ve met with network presidents and the CEOs of studios. We’ve brought delegations of members to talk to them about how serious this problem was, about how urgent it was to get this problem fixed…The ordinary bargaining process for these contracts had proven insufficient to get us to what we needed to do in the area of options and exclusivity, and it really was this legislative initiative that gave us the additional leverage and made such a visible difference.

“The way the companies have responded on this issue while this legislation has been pending represents a night-and-day difference than how they were responding to us when there wasn’t legislation pending…And so the timing lined up perfectly for us to use the fact that we had that legislation pending as further leverage to get changes that we need in that area, but also the (Netflix) agreement was expired and it was time to renegotiate the agreement that we first established with Netflix in 2019.

“I just want to reiterate the legislative component of that,” added Ben Whitehair, SAG-AFTRA’s executive vice president. “To me, as a member, it’s another example of the ways that SAG-AFTRA is fighting on behalf of members. We think about the contract negotiations and enforcement, but it’s a powerful reminder in seeing how the legislative work that the union does as well is yet another area that can provide gains or leverage for our members. So I just want to highlight that because it really helps flesh out, you know, when people say, ‘What exactly does SAG-AFTRA do?’ – that these are some of the most core functions: we’re negotiating contracts with the employers; we’re working to get better terms and conditions for our members; we’re fighting to keep these things enforced, and we’re going out and getting legislation in the works if needed to do that as well.”

SAG-AFTRA spent $1,097,586 for “political activities and lobbying” in support of legislation beneficial to its members during its last fiscal year, according to its latest financial disclosure report filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. The guild, however, does not endorse or contribute to political candidates.

According to SAG-AFTRA, major changes to the options and exclusivity rules giving series regulars the right to work on other programs when they are not working for their Netflix series include:
• Increasing the options and exclusivity money breaks from $40,000 per episode or per week to $65,000 per episode or per week for half-hour programs and $70,000 per episode or per week for one-hour programs. This means many more series regulars will be protected by the options and exclusivity terms of the collective bargaining agreement that give them more freedom to work.
• Secured the right for a performer to be a second-position series regular on another series or a second-position lead in a miniseries each calendar year, in addition to unlimited guest star appearances and unlimited guest star recurring roles of not more than six episodes per season of a series.
• Netflix can no longer refuse to allow a series regular to appear on another program because that program is made for pay television, a streaming service or a linear channel that has the right to stream the program within 30 days.
• Netflix can no longer refuse to allow a series regular to appear on another program because another series regular appeared on the same season of that series.
• Netflix must provide a “conflict-free window” of at least three months (and, if possible, longer) following principal photography of each season during which a series regular can commit their time to another program without having to confirm availability or schedule with Netflix.
• Option exercise timelines have been reduced, and the ability to extend them is also reduced and made more expensive, meaning series regulars will know much sooner whether Netflix will employ them for another season of the series.
• For the first time in any contract, there is now a deadline for starting a series regular’s services for a subsequent season of a series and/or commencing payment to them for those services: Three months after option exercise, with the ability to extend by another two months in exchange for a non-recoupable, subsequent-season episodic fee.

Other gains in the new Netflix agreement, which has been overwhelmingly approved by the guild’s national board, include a first-ever background coverage zone in Albuquerque, New Mexico, covering all stand-ins and the first 10 background actors; residuals for stunt coordinators for continued exhibition of their high-budget streaming programs on Netflix, using the day performer minimum as the basis for the residual calculation, and the establishment of Juneteenth as a new contractual holiday.

As part of the agreement, Netflix will also become a member of the AMPTP – the bargaining arm for the major companies. And while the Netflix Agreement will survive Netflix’s membership in the AMPTP, future negotiations with Netflix will occur concurrently with AMPTP negotiations.

Membership voting on the new Netflix deal, which is now underway, will conclude on Aug. 31.

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