SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher welcomed a George Clooney-led proposal on taking caps off union dues but said the offer wouldn’t be legally compatible with the union’s contract with the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers, saying “that does not impact the contract that we’re striking over whatsoever.”
Earlier this week, Clooney and a group of other A-list actors met with SAG-AFTRA national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland and Drescher and offered a bold proposal to leaders suggesting that the union remove the cap on dues for high-earning members in order to infuse more funds into the union’s coffers over the course of three years.
The idea behind the A-lister proposal is for major stars like Clooney to pay more in dues than is currently required (the cap is currently at $1 million in earnings) in order to help bridge the gap between what the SAG-AFTRA is seeking in 2023 negotiations and what the studios and streamers are willing to give. The proposal also seeks to get lower-income members paid in residuals before higher-income members.
“First of all, I want to thank certain members that wield a lot of clout in this business for the tremendous amount of money that they contributed to our foundation,” Drescher said in a lengthy video posted to Instagram. “I also want to thank George Clooney for organizing the suggestion that… take the caps off of the dues so that the highest paid members can contribute more. Although that’s extremely generous and we accept that graciously.”
Drescher explained that the proposal wouldn’t work legally due to the basis of the union’s contract. “We are a federally regulated labor union and the only contributions that can go into our pension and health funds must be from the employer. So what we are fighting for in terms of benefits has to remain in this contract.”
She added, “[It’s] kind of apples and oranges, just so everybody understands that.”
The talks between SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP are currently stalled over the union’s streaming viewership proposal, which attempts to charge streaming services 57 cents per subscriber to create a pool of funds that could be distributed to members whose work appears on these services. The AMPTP has said that this proposal would create an “untenable economic burden,” while the performers union has said that such a provision is necessary to supplement downward pressure on members’ wages for streaming projects. The sides also remain far apart on AI guardrails for entertainment and minimum rate increases for the next three years.
Drescher also spoke on the idea floated in the Clooney-led plan about residuals. “There was a reference to a suggestion of maybe a solution from some people of how maybe we can get back to the table with some kind of a residual. But that was vetted by our very experienced union contract staff negotiators and lawyers.”
“And they said that it unfortunately doesn’t hold water because, frankly, this is a very nuanced house of cards. So although we appreciate the effort and the desire to be supportive to all the member body, we at the union and with the negotiating committee are still waiting for the CEOs to return to the table so we can continue our talks,” Drescher said, referring to the fact that studios called for a suspension in discussions on Oct. 11 primarily over the union’s streaming viewership proposal. “Because in either saying no or walking away from the table, you are not really in a negotiation.”
Later in the video, Drescher made a point of admonishing the studios for walking away from talks, saying that “walking away from the table actually is not only very naughty, but it also is not legal.” The Hollywood Reporter has gone out to the AMPTP for comment.
Drescher described the union’s streaming viewership proposal as having “cracked the code” on streaming compensation. And in her message, she conveyed the union won’t be backing down from that proposition any time soon. “Now, it’s true that the CEOs don’t really want to address that, but sometimes in life when you introduce an unprecedented business model like they did on all of my members with streaming, an unprecedented compensation structure must also go along with it. It may not be easy, it may not be what they want but it is an elegant way to solve the problem so we can all go back to work in what would be the new normal.”
Later on Thursday evening, SAG-AFTRA’s negotiating committee chimed in with a lengthy statement that reiterated some of Drescher’s key points and fleshed out others. “The fact that the heads of the networks, streaming companies and studios are open to communicating with them directly is great,” the union’s statement said. “But, the executives should not for one second think that they can use the goodwill of member emissaries to distract us from our mission.”
The statement continued, “We subsidized the growth of the streaming model with reduced rates and low to non-existent residuals. It’s time to share in the success we’ve helped build.”
Katie Kilkenny contributed to this report.