July 2016 Rates Roundtable: SAG-AFTRA

by | Jul 12, 2016 | Rates Roundtable, Unions, World-Voices.org

unionOne year ago this month, WoVO began sponsoring a series of “R.A.D.A.R. Rates Roundtables”.  RADAR stands for Rates And Digital Ad Reform…a fancy acryonym warning us to be aware of compsation challenges/changes in the marketplace, especially as it concerns new streams of digital media.

Anne Ganguzza and I have been co-hosting the monthly panels on a number of different topics, always holding to the VO rates angle, and always doing our best to find the finest panel experts to speak on the subjects at hand.

You can see them all on the WoVO YouTube channel, and most of the hour-long videos are also posted on the WoVO home page.  You don’t have to be a member to view them.

From the start, Anne and I thought a session on the topic of SAG-AFTRA, and union rates would be an excellent roundtable discussion.  However, it’s been most difficult to arrange.  For the longest time, the union would not consider having someone be on the panel.  Other influential and knowledgeable people we hoped would contribute were tough to schedule, mostly ’cause they were so busy.

Well…we believe it’s finally coming together for this Wednesday.  Our guests are:

  • Zach Hanks, VO, and SAG-AFTRA National Interactive Media Negotiation Committee member
  • Melissa Exelberth, VO
  • Dave Fennoy, VO
  • Brad Venable, VO
  • Tom Allamon, Falcon Paymasters

We had pressured others to join, but there were the usual scheduling challenges.  One eager respondent was Bob Bergen, who has represented the VO Community for years in SAG-AFTRA negotiations.  He was unable to attend, but offered some invaluable observations to my comments.  You can read them below to whet your appetite for Wednesday’s roundtable, which should be posted here by Wednesday evening.

Thanks for your answers, Bob!  We’ll miss your input in the discussion, but your comments below more than make up for it.



  • What is the efficacy of recent moves by the union in black-listing studios?

Well, the union isn’t really blacklisting studios that I know of.  There have been commercial companies who had been signatories to the union where they were found to be producing non union work.  Because union performers can only work union, SAG-AFTRA issued a notice that members were not to work for these commercial companies.  It was absolutely an efficient move as it gave the union the opportunity to then step in and organize.  The results are to be determined, but members were losing out on far too much for the union to have sat back and do nothing.  

  • Is the union is still relevant for anyone outside of LA or NYC?
Relevant is a relevant term.  It just depends on what you want out of your career, or how you define professional acting.  None of us in LA or NYC make a living on session fees.  It’s all about residuals.  It’s the residuals that bring us the annual income to qualify for P&H.  We don’t work professionally for the session fee.  We work for the benefits that comes with working professionally.  We have pretty amazing pension plans and health benefits.  We look longterm, not at the quick fix of today’s job.  If today’s job pays nothing other than today’s job, it’s bad for our overall longterm business strategy.  
But this is a foreign language to those outside LA/NYC.  They never experienced what we called professional vo/acting.  They just saw, over 16 or so years, an industry handed to them over their computer.  Someone making minimum wage was now being booked on a vo gig that pays $100 to work for less than one hour.  They know not that this is a fraction of what it would pay union, and they know not/cannot relate to the concept of residuals and P&H that comes from vo.  All they know is, even at the lowball rate that they are oblivious about, this is more money per hour than they ever thought they would make in their lifetime.  And as they master the e-world of vo, and find they are booking weekly a few $100 gigs, a couple of $500 gigs, the occasional $1500 gig, etc., that’s real money to them!  And they are doing what they love!  Kinda hard to convince them this is wrong!
If they are smart, they save and set up retirement portfolios.  They buy private health care, just like most Americans.  They never lived or experienced the concept of how it works for the union actor.  And, the union actor in LA/NYC cannot relate to this new generation settling for this new e-generation business model.  It’s as foreign a language to them as well.  
But the problem for the union is, after 16 plus years there are more pursing with this new e-generation business model than those pursuing strictly as professional union actors.  Is the union relevant to those outside LA/NYC???  Well, this is why I will not and cannot move out of LA.  I am of the last generation who lives and knows how it used to be and, for me at least, continues to be.  So I can only speak for myself.  I got into this when I was 14, knowing exactly what I wanted out of my vo career.  Which was to play with the big boys.  I rubbed elbows with the big boys,never associating with lesser than.  And I never took a job for the sake of taking a job.  I was taught to nurture and respect my fellow actor and their ability to continue pursuing professional vo professionally.  And the idea of not paying into my fellow actor’s P&H pool for the sake of making a buck was morally and ethically wrong.  I can make a buck taking another day or night job.  But it’s not nor has it ever been about making money at vo.  That was a fortunate byproduct for me.  And, as my career grew and grew I was able to then add business man to by business strategy, which meant investing, buying a house, all that comes with money management.  
But I am well aware, even at this stage in my career, another day job is not out of the question.  It’s the nature of being a professional actor. There are many reasons the work dries up.  From strikes, to shows being canceled, to work contracts not being renewed.  I need to pay my bills and eat.  But I do not need to do it by working nonunion or go fi core.  I could.  But it hurts others more than it benefits me.  And in the bigger scheme of things, it’s not about me.
  • Is the union rate sheet still the de facto standard?

It is for the union actor.  But again, it is not about the session fee for us!  It’s about residuals and benefits.  So this is kind of a moot point for the union actor if non union session fees are on par with union session fees.  The bigger picture is missing.

But this is what I find so ironic!!  As I lurk the vo forums, and you all know I’m a pretty big lurker, I see the many, many complaints about low ball rates, and the discouraging of your fellow actors from accepting low ball rates, how that just hurts everyone in the long run and makes it harder to set and keep standards, like the kind of standards that Dave and his WOVO team have worked so hard to accomplish and establish over the years.
But don’t you understand, that by taking this work at any price non union, even at union rates,  you are hurting the very people who have worked their asses off since the beginning of broadcasting to guarantee this union rate sheet, and more!!!!  By eroding the union work, you have destroyed an industry that always paid minimums and benefits to all who worked.  And it frustrates the hell out of many of you, the WOVOs who work SO hard to establish and preach standards when your fellow actors take the job at any price for the sake of working, virtually destroying much of the long, hard work of these WOVO members.  Your intentions are to benefit all!!  It’s a slap in your face!  It’s step amongst step backwards.  And it makes it harder and harder to keep the standards let alone bring them back.
Welcome to our world!!!!!

  • What are the possibilities for “converting” non-union work?
Of course!  It’s easier if there are no subsequent fees.  But sure, non union work is converted all the time.  I’ll go one step further, I know too many who have not only converted a non union job, they were able to get a Taft Hartley out of the job to qualify for joining the union so they could pursue professional vo professionally.  

  • What is the wisdom of going Fi-Core or not?
I’m being redundant, but again I think it just depends on what you want out of a vo career.  Since the advent of e-vo, more and more vo around the country is now non union.  The definition of “professional vo actor” has changed. It used to mean pursuing vo professionally, meaning pursuing union.  It did not necessarily mean working union because, let’s face it, the majority in the union, be it on camera or vo, do not work.  This is how it’s always been statistically.  But because the majority of the work used to be union, when you did work you were guaranteed minimum wages and health/pension benefits.  
Today, the new definition of professional vo, at least to the e-genertaion of vo, just means working.  I see people bragging about booking a national non union commercial as if it’s an accomplishment.  The only accomplishment is it’s getting a wider audience.  That’s an ego boost.  But a business loss, as the tens of thousands of residuals are nowhere to be seen.  One national union class A spot more often than not qualifies for health benefits for the entire year.  And even non union national spots come with conflicts.  You are closing the door on more opportunities for the joy of hearing your voice in a national commercial.  But hey, if that’s what it’s all about for you, you have accomplished what you want.
The professional union vo actor  never went into vo for the money.  You pursued acting professionally because you could not imagine doing anything else that would make you as happy.  Now, you paid your bills like actors have done for centuries, with day jobs.night jobs, etc.  But you never, ever pursued non union vo work for the sake of making a buck or paying your bills.  It was just a given that would cheapen the industry in a detrimental trickle down, and you would be damaging yourself and the industry as a whole.  
What many working nonunion don’t understand is, every union job pays into the P&H pool of every union member.  Yes, you need to make a certain minimum a year to qualify for P&H.  But a percentage of P&H is taken out of each check to pay into the entire membership’s P&H pool.  By a fi core actor working non union, you are literally taking benefits away from your fellow union actor.  Because of this, we went from paying zero monthly health benefit premiums to paying (I think) a lil over $100 a month.  Hey-relatively speaking, not bad at all!!  
So the answer is, fi core benefits the actor working fi core.  They have the best of both worlds.  They can work union and non.  And because this e-generation of vo actors cannot relate to the decades old definition of professional vo actor, this is just fine for them.  They are in this to make money.  But it’s a vicious cycle.  Because today’s e-generation is in it for the buck, there will always be someone to say yes at any price.  Had the e-generation insisted to stay on the union course, knowing like we have for decades that the union’s mission was not to get us jobs but rather guarantee minimum wages and benefits, they would be enjoying the same benefits as we do.
But the tide has turned.  And with each wave it brings with it more willing to work at any price.  Hard to fight the tide!  And because of this tide, the majority of the country sees very few union opportunities and mostly non union opportunities.
  • Summarize the current efforts of the union in the gaming voices sector.
We have about a 97% strike authorization approval.  We are not really asking for a whole lot!  We are asking for a tiny amount of profit sharing from only THE most successful games and companies, as well as health standards on all sessions.  I do believe we will be successful if a strike is called.  There are too many celebrities working on games today that these companies and studios rely on.   We have no desire to step on the financial toes of smaller game companies yet to see profits.  On the contrary!  We want them to thrive, eventually becoming so successful that they gross enough to participate in profit sharing as well. But until then, we want them to be able to produce and grow without being forced to pay additional fees. This is why we are asking for profit sharing from the successful, and not residuals from all.  



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