The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) was an American labor union which represented over 100,000 film and television principal and background performers worldwide. On March 30, 2012, the union leadership announced that the SAG membership voted to merge with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) to create SAG-AFTRA.
According to SAG's Mission Statement, the Guild sought to: negotiate and enforce collective bargaining agreements that establish equitable levels of compensation, benefits, and working conditions for its performers; collect compensation for exploitation of recorded performances by its members, and provide protection against unauthorized use of those performances; and preserve and expand work opportunities for its members.
The Guild was founded in 1933 in an effort to eliminate exploitation of actors in Hollywood who were being forced into oppressive multi-year contracts with the major movie studios that did not include restrictions on work hours or minimum rest periods, and often had clauses that automatically renewed at the studios' discretion. These contracts were notorious for allowing the studios to dictate the public and private lives of the performers who signed them, and most did not have provisions to allow the performer to end the deal.
The Screen Actors Guild was associated with the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (AAAA), which is the primary association of performer's unions in the United States. AAAA is affiliated with the AFL–CIO. SAG claimed exclusive jurisdiction over motion picture performances, and shared jurisdiction of radio, television, Internet, and other new media with its sister union AFTRA, with which it shared 44,000 dual members. Internationally, the SAG was affiliated with the International Federation of Actors.
In addition to its main offices in Hollywood, SAG also maintained local branches in several major US cities, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami, Nashville, New York City, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.
In 1925, the Masquers Club was formed by actors discontent with the grueling work hours at the Hollywood studios. This was one of the major concerns which led to the creation of the Screen Actors Guild in 1933. Another was that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which at that time arbitrated between the producers and actors on contract disputes, had a membership policy which was by invitation only.
A meeting in March 1933 of six actors (Berton Churchill, Charles Miller, Grant Mitchell, Ralph Morgan, Alden Gay, and Kenneth Thomson) led to the guild's foundation. Three months later, three of the six and eighteen others became the guild's first officers and board of directors: Ralph Morgan (its first president), Alden Gay, Kenneth Thomson, Alan Mowbray (who personally funded the organization when it was first founded), Leon Ames, Tyler Brooke, Clay Clement, James Gleason, Lucile Webster Gleason, Boris Karloff, Claude King, Noel Madison, Reginald Mason, Bradley Page, Willard Robertson, Ivan Simpson, C. Aubrey Smith, Charles Starrett, Richard Tucker, Arthur Vinton, Morgan Wallace and Lyle Talbot.
Many high-profile actors refused to join SAG initially. This changed when the producers made an agreement amongst themselves not to bid competitively for talent. A pivotal meeting, at the home of Frank Morgan (Ralph's brother, who played the title role in The Wizard of Oz), was what gave SAG its critical mass. Prompted by Eddie Cantor's insistence, at that meeting, that any response to that producer's agreement help all actors, not just the already established ones, it took only three weeks for SAG membership to go from around 80 members to more than 4,000. Cantor's participation was critical, particularly because of his friendship with the recently elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt. After several years and the passage of the National Labor Relations Act, the producers agreed to negotiate with SAG in 1937.
Actors known for their early support of SAG (besides the founders) include Edward Arnold, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Dudley Digges, Porter Hall, Paul Harvey, Jean Hersholt, Russell Hicks, Murray Kinnell, Gene Lockhart, Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Fredric March, Adolphe Menjou, Chester Morris, Jean Muir, George Murphy, Erin O'Brien-Moore, Irving Pichel, Dick Powell, Edward G. Robinson, Edwin Stanley, Gloria Stuart, Lyle Talbot, Franchot Tone, Warren William, and Robert Young.
In October 1947, the members of a list of suspected communists working in the Hollywood film industry were summoned to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), which was investigating Communist influence in the Hollywood labor unions. Ten of those summoned, dubbed the "Hollywood Ten", refused to cooperate and were charged with contempt of Congress and sentenced to prison. Several liberal members of SAG, led by Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Danny Kaye, and Gene Kelly formed the Committee for the First Amendment (CFA) and flew to Washington, DC, in late October 1947 to show support for the Hollywood Ten. (Several of the CFA's members, including Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, and John Garfield later recanted, saying they had been "duped", not realizing that some of the Ten were really communists.)
The president of SAG – future United States President Ronald Reagan – also known to the FBI as Confidential Informant "T-10", testified before the committee but never publicly named names. Instead, according to an FBI memorandum in 1947: "T-10 advised Special Agent [name deleted] that he has been made a member of a committee headed by Mayer, the purpose of which is allegedly is to 'purge' the motion-picture industry of Communist party members, which committee was an outgrowth of the Thomas committee hearings in Washington and subsequent meetings . . . He felt that lacking a definite stand on the part of the government, it would be very difficult for any committee of motion-picture people to conduct any type of cleansing of their own household". Subsequently, a climate of fear, enhanced by the threat of detention under the provisions of the McCarran Internal Security Act, permeated the film industry. On November 17, 1947, the Screen Actors Guild voted to force its officers to take a "non-communist" pledge. On November 25 (the day after the full House approved the ten citations for contempt) in what has become known as the Waldorf Statement, Eric Johnston, president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), issued a press release: "We will not knowingly employ a Communist or a member of any party or group which advocates the overthrow of the government of the United States by force or by any illegal or unconstitutional methods."
None of those blacklisted were proven to advocate overthrowing the government – most simply had Marxist or socialist views. The Waldorf Statement marked the beginning of the Hollywood blacklist that saw hundreds of people prevented from working in the film industry. During the height of what is now referred to as McCarthyism, the Screen Writers Guild gave the studios the right to omit from the screen the name of any individual who had failed to clear his name before Congress. At a 1997 ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Blacklist, the Guild's president made this statement:
Only our sister union, Actors Equity Association, had the courage to stand behind its members and help them continue their creative lives in the theater. ... Unfortunately, there are no credits to restore, nor any other belated recognition that we can offer our members who were blacklisted. They could not work under assumed names or employ surrogates to front for them. An actor's work and his or her identity are inseparable. Screen Actors Guild's participation in tonight's event must stand as our testament to all those who suffered that, in the future, we will strongly support our members and work with them to assure their rights as defined and guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
The Screen Actors Guild Women's Committee was founded in 1972.
In 1998, Naomi Marquez filed suit against SAG and Lakeside Productions claiming they had breached their duty of fair representation. The claim was denied by the Supreme Court.
The membership of the Screen Actors Guild voted to merge with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists on March 30, 2012.
According to SAG's Department of Labor records since 2006, when membership classifications were first reported, 30%, or almost a third, of the guild's total membership had consistently been considered "withdrawn," "suspended," or otherwise not categorized as "active" members. These members were ineligible to vote in the guild. "Honorable withdrawals" constituted the largest portion of these, at 20% of the total membership, or 36,284 members before the merger in 2012. "Suspended" members were the second largest, at 10%, or 18,402 members. This classification scheme is continued by SAG-AFTRA.
An actor was eligible to join the Screen Actors Guild by meeting the criteria in any of the following three categories: principal actor in a SAG production, background actor (originally the "three voucher rule"), and one-year member of an affiliated union (with a principal role). The basic categories were:
Members joining the Los Angeles, New York, or Miami SAG locals were assessed an initial fee to join the Guild of $3,000. At the time of initiation, the first minimum semi-annual membership dues payment of $58 must have also been paid, bringing the total amount due upon initiation into the Guild to $3,058. All other SAG locals still assessed initiation fees at the previous rate. Members from other locales who worked in Los Angeles, New York, or Miami after joining were charged the difference between the fee they paid their local and the higher rate in those markets.
Membership dues were calculated and due semi-annually, and were based upon the member's earnings from SAG productions. The minimum annual dues amount was $116, with an additional 1.85% of the performer's income up to $200,000. Income from $200,000 to $500,000 was assessed at 0.5%, and income from $500,000 to $1 million was assessed at 0.25%. For the calculation of dues, there was a total earnings cap at $1 million. Therefore, the maximum dues payable in any one calendar year by any single member was limited to $6,566.
SAG members who became delinquent in their dues without formally requesting a leave of absence from the Guild were assessed late penalties, and risked being ejected from the Guild and could be forced to pay the initiation fee again to regain their membership.
The SAG Constitution and Bylaws stated that, "No member shall work as a performer or make an agreement to work as a performer for any producer who has not executed a basic minimum agreement with the Guild which is in full force and effect." Every SAG performer agreed to abide by this, and all the other SAG rules, as a condition of membership into the Guild. This means that no SAG members could perform in non-union projects that were within SAG's jurisdiction, once they became members of the Guild. Since 2002, the Guild had pursued a policy of worldwide enforcement of Rule One, and renamed it Global Rule One.
However, many actors, particularly those who do voices for anime dubs, have worked for non-union productions under pseudonyms. For example, David Cross did voices for the non-union cartoon Aqua Teen Hunger Force, under the pseudonym "Sir Willups Brightslymoore." He acknowledged that work in an interview with SuicideGirls. Such violations of Global Rule One had generally gone ignored by the Guild.
Like other guilds and associations that represent actors, SAG rules stipulated that no two members may have identical working names. Some actors have added their middle initial. Notable examples include Michael Keaton, Michael J. Fox and Emma Stone, whose birth names "Michael Douglas", "Michael Fox" and "Emily Stone," respectively, were already in use.
SAG contracts with producers contained a variety of protections for Guild performers. Among these provisions were: minimum rates of pay, adequate working conditions, special protection and education requirements for minors, arbitration of disputes and grievances, and affirmative action in auditions and hiring.
All members of the Guild agreed to work only for producers who had signed contracts with SAG. These contracts spelled out in detail the responsibilities that producers must assume when hiring SAG performers. Specifically, the SAG basic contract specified: the number of hours performers may work, the frequency of meal breaks required, the minimum wages or "scale" at which performers must be compensated for their work, overtime pay, travel accommodations, wardrobe allowances, stunt pay, private dressing rooms, and adequate rest periods between performances. When applicable, and with due regard to the safety of the individuals, cast and crew, women and minorities were to be considered for doubling roles and for descript and non-descript stunts on a functional, non-discriminatory basis.
Performers who meet the eligibility criteria of working a certain number of days or attaining a certain threshold in income derived from SAG productions could join the Producers Pension and Health Plans offered by the Guild. The eligibility requirements varied by age of the performer and the desired plan chosen (there were two health plans). There were also Dental, Vision, and Life & Disability coverage included as part of the two plans.
In July 1948, a strike was averted at the last minute as the SAG and major producers agreed upon a new collective bargaining contract. The major points agreed upon included: full union shop for actors to continue, negotiations for films sent direct to TV, producers could not sue an actor for breach of contract if they strike (but the guild could only strike when the contract expires).
In March 1960, SAG went on strike against the seven major studios. This was the first industry-wide strike in the 50-year history of movie making. Earlier walkouts involved production for television. The Writers Guild of America had been on strike since January 31, 1960 with similar demands to the actors. The independents were not affected since they signed new contracts. The dispute rested on actors wanting to be paid 6% or 7% of the gross earnings of pictures made since 1948 and sold to television. Actors also wanted a pension and welfare fund.
In December 1978, members of SAG went on strike for the fourth time in its 45-year history. It joined the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in picket lines in Los Angeles and New York. The unions said that management's demand would cut actors' salaries. The argument was over filming commercials. Management agreed to up salaries from $218 to $250 per scene, but if the scene were not used at all, the actor would not be paid.
In July, SAG members walked out on strike, along with AFTRA, the union for television and radio artists, and the American Federation of Musicians. The union joined the television artists in calling for a successful boycott against that year's prime-time Emmy awards. Powers Boothe was the only one of the 52 nominated actors to attend: "This is either the most courageous moment of my career or the stupidest" he quipped during his acceptance speech. The guild ratified a new pact, for a 32.25% increase in minimum salaries and a 4.5% share of movies made for pay TV, and the strike ended on October 25.
The commercials strike of 2000 was extremely controversial. Some factions within SAG call it a success, asserting that it not only saved Pay-Per-Play (residuals) but it also increased cable residuals by 140% up from $1,014 to $2,460. Others suggested almost identical terms were available in negotiation without a strike. In the wake of the strike, SAG, and its sister union AFTRA, gathered evidence on over 1,500 non-members who had worked during the strike. SAG trial boards found Elizabeth Hurley and Tiger Woods guilty of performing in non-union commercials and both were fined $100,000 each.
SAG Principal members could not work on non-union productions. Union background actors were not fully covered nationwide and could work non-union outside the background zones. These background zones included the state of Hawai'i, 4 zones in California, Las Vegas NV, and a 300-mile radius around New York City. Many film schools had SAG Student Film Agreements with the Guild to allow SAG actors to work in their projects. SAGIndie was formed in 1997 to promote using SAG actors; SAG also had Low Budget Contracts that were meant to encourage the use of SAG members on films produced outside of the major studios and to prevent film productions from leaving the country, known as "Runaway production". In the fight against "Runaway production", the SAG National Board voted unanimously to support the Film and Television Action Committee (FTAC) and its 301(a) Petition which asked the US Trade Representative to investigate Canadian film subsidies for their violation of trade agreements Canada signed with the United States.
Financial core, or Fi-Core, was a payment to a union to allow someone to work in a union environment without being a member of the union. The concept was defined in 1963 by Supreme Court case Labor Board v. General Motors and clarified for the communications industry in 1988 via Communications Workers of America v. Beck.
Approximately 96% of normal union dues must have been paid to be a Financial Core member of the SAG, and Financial Core members may not "represent themselves as Screen Actors Guild members." Additionally, the Screen Actors Guild said "Fi-Core/FPNM are viewed as scabs ... by SAG members, directors, and writers—most of whom also belong to entertainment unions". This statement had been met with skepticism by some.
Entertainment remains among the most gender unequal industries in the United States. The National Women's Committee operated within the National Statement of Purpose to promote equal employment opportunities for its female SAG members. It also encouraged positive images of women in film and television, in order to end sexual stereotypes and educate the industry about the representation of women, both in numbers and quality of representation.
SAG Women's Committee had been dedicated to working towards strategic objectives adopted from the Fourth World Conference on Women Beijing Platform of 1995. These objectives included supporting research into all aspects of women and the media so as to define areas needing attention and action. The SAG Hollywood Division Women's Committee also encouraged the media to refrain from presenting women as inferior beings and exploiting them as sexual objects and commodities.
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