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The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is an American labor union representing over 200,000 film and television principal performers and background performers worldwide. According to SAG's Mission Statement, the Guild seeks 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 Hollywoodmarker 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 is associated with the Associated Actors and Artistes of America , which is the primary association of performer's unions in the United States. The AAAA is affiliated with the AFL-CIO. SAG claims exclusive jurisdiction over motion picture performances, and shares jurisdiction of radio, television, Internet, and other new media with its sister union AFTRA, with which it shares 44,000 dual members.

In addition to its main offices in Hollywood, SAG also maintains local branches in several major US cities, including: Phoenixmarker, Bostonmarker, New York Citymarker, Philadelphiamarker, Washington DCmarker, Nashvillemarker, Atlantamarker, Miamimarker, Dallasmarker, Houstonmarker, Chicagomarker, Detroitmarker, Denvermarker, Salt Lake Citymarker, San Diegomarker, Seattlemarker, Portlandmarker, Las Vegasmarker, Honolulumarker, and San Franciscomarker.

Since 1995, the guild has annually awarded the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which are considered an indicator of success at the Academy Awards.

History of the Guild

The early years

In 1925, the Masquers Club was formed by actors fed up with the grueling work hours at the Hollywood studios, particularly for actors without contracts.

This was one major concern, 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 among six actors started it all: Berton Churchill, Charles Miller, Grant Mitchell, Ralph Morgan, Alden Gay, and Kenneth Thomson. Three months later, three of those 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 (reportedly influenced by long hours suffered during the filming of Frankenstein), 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 would go on to play the title role in The Wizard of Oz), is 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 4000. Cantor's participation was critical, particularly because of his friendship with the recently-elected President Franklin 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.

The blacklist years

In October 1947, 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 Hollywoodmarker labor union. 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 pistol-packing 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:

SAG rules and procedures

Joining SAG

A performer is eligible to join the Screen Actors Guild by meeting the criteria in any of the following three categories: principal performer in a SAG production, background performer (originally the "three voucher rule"), and one-year member of an affiliated union (with a principal role). For more details and restrictions, see article: Screen Actors Guild rules. The basic categories are:

  • Principal performer: Any performer who works as a principal performer for a minimum of one day on a project (film, commercial, TV show, etc.) under a producer's agreement with SAG, and the performer has been paid at the appropriate SAG daily, three-day, or weekly rate is then considered "SAG-Eligible." A SAG-Eligible performer may work in other SAG or non-SAG productions up to 30 days, during which that performer is classified as a "Taft-Hartley." After the 30-day Taft-Hartley period has expired, the performer may not work on any further SAG productions until first joining SAG, by: paying the initiation fee with the first half-year minimum membership dues, and agreeing to abide by the Guild's rules and bylaws.

  • Background performer: For years, SAG had the "three voucher rule". After collecting 3 valid union vouchers for three separate days of work, a background performer (an extra) can become SAG-Eligible; however, employment must be confirmed with payroll data not vouchers. SAG productions require a minimum number of SAG members be employed as background performers before a producer is permitted to hire a non-union background performer in their production. For television productions, the minimum number of SAG background performers is 19, for commercials the minimum is 40, and for feature films, the minimum is 50. Often, due to the uniqueness of a role, or constraints on the numbers of available SAG performers or last-minute cancellations, those minimums are unable to be met. When this happens, producers are permitted to fill one or more of those union spots with non-union performers. The non-union performer chosen to fill the union spot is then issued a union extra voucher for the day, and that non-union performer is entitled to all the same benefits and pay that the union performer would have received under that voucher. The SAG-Eligible background performer may continue working in non-union productions and is not required to join the Guild before performing in another SAG production as a background performer.

  • Member of an affiliated union: Members in good standing, for at least one year, of any of the other unions affiliated with the AAAA, and who have worked as a principal at least once in an area of the affiliated union's jurisdiction, and who have been paid for their work in that principal role, are eligible to join SAG.

Initiation fee and membership dues

Members joining the Los Angeles, New York, or Miami SAG locals are assessed an initial fee to join the Guild of $2,277. At the time of initiation, the first minimum semi-annual membership dues payment of $58 must also be paid, bringing the total amount due upon initiation into the Guild to $2,335. All other SAG locals still assess initiation fees at the previous rate. Members from other locals who work in Los Angeles, New York, or Miami after joining are charged the difference between the fee they paid their local and the higher rate in those markets.

Membership dues are calculated and are due semi-annually, and are based upon the member's earnings from SAG productions. The minimum annual dues amount is $116, with an additional 1.85% of the performer's income up to $200K. Income from $200K to $500K is assessed at 0.5%, and income from $500K to $1M is assessed at 0.25%. For the calculation of dues, there is a total earnings cap at $1M. Therefore, the maximum dues payable in any one calendar year by any single member is limited to $6,566.

SAG members who become delinquent in their dues without formally requesting a leave of absence from the Guild are assessed late penalties, and risk being ejected from the Guild and can be forced to pay the initiation fee again to regain their membership.

Global Rule One

The SAG Constitution and Bylaws state 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 agrees to abide by this, and all the other SAG rules, as a condition of membership into the Guild. This means that no SAG members may perform in non-union projects that are within SAG's jurisdiction, once they become members of the Guild. Since 2002, the Guild has pursued a policy of world-wide 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 Such violations of Global Rule One have generally gone ignored by the Guild.

Member benefits and privileges

SAG contracts with producers contain a variety of protections for Guild performers. Among these provisions are: minimum rates of pay, first class airfare and travel insurance, adequate working conditions, strict safety requirements, special protection and education requirements for minors, arbitration of disputes and grievances, and affirmative action in auditions and hiring.

Standardized pay and work conditions

All members of the Guild agree to work only for producers who have signed contracts with SAG. These contracts spell out in detail the responsibilities that producers must assume when hiring SAG performers. Specifically, the SAG basic contract specifies: 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.

The Producers and the Pension and Health Plans

Performers who meet the eligibility criteria of working a certain number of days or attaining a certain threshold in income derived from SAG productions can join the Producers Pension and Health Plans offered by the Guild. The eligibility requirements vary by age of the performer and the desired plan chosen (there are two health plans). There is also Dental, Vision, and Life & Disability coverage included as part of the two plans.

Residuals that are needed to succeed in the footage

The Guild secures residuals payments in perpetuity to its members for broadcast and re-broadcast of films, TV shows, and TV commercials through clauses in the basic SAG agreements with producers.

Major strikes and boycotts by the union

Early strikes

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 include: full union shop for actors to continue, negotiations for films sent direct to tv, producers cannot sue an actor for breach of contract if s/he strikes (but the guild can only strike when the contract expires).

In March 1960, SAG went on strike against the 7 major studios. This was the first industry-wide strike in the 50-year history of movie making. Earlier walkouts involved production for television. The WGA 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 rests on actors wanting to be paid 6% or 7% of the gross earnings of pictures made since 1948 and sold to television. Actors also want 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.

Strike and Emmy Awards boycott of 1980

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

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 suggest 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.

Predicted strike of 2009

The film industry is anticipating a strike by SAG, in addition to the recently resolved WGA strike. The strike, which could occur after the expiration of SAG's major contracts in June 2008, would stem from the current handling of royalties from the sale of films distributed through new media methods. This includes royalties earned from Internet distribution services such as iTunes, as well as DVD sales, neither of which are currently written into actors', writers', and directors' contracts. The strike date of July 2008 was chosen due to its coinciding with the expiration of several contracts between SAG and AMPTP.

Production companies are bracing for the strike by accelerating production of films and television episodes, in an effort to stockpile enough material to continue regular film releases and TV schedules during the strike period. A list of 300 high-priority film projects is reportedly circulating around talent agencies in accordance with this effort.

Beyond the major studios

SAG members may not work on non-union productions; many film schools have SAG Student Film Agreements with the Guild to allow SAG actors to work in their projects. SAGIndie was formed in 1997 to promote independent filmmaking using SAG actors; SAG also has Low Budget Contracts that are 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 recently voted unanimously to support the Film and Television Action Committee (FTAC) and its 301(a) Petition which asks the US Trade Representative to investigate the current Canadian film subsidies for their violation of the trade agreements Canada already signed with the United States.

SAG Presidents

See also


  1. HERBERT MITGANG. Dangerous Dossiers: exposing the secret war against america's greatest authors. New York City, NY: Donald I. Fine, Inc, pp 31-33
  3., web: SG-DCross.
  4. Health BenefitTabs-Eligibility
  5. Actors' Strike Threat Fades; Points Agreed. (1948, July 8). Los Angeles Times,p. A1. Retrieved June 24, 2008
  6. ACTORS START STRIKE AT 7 MAJOR STUDIOS :Guild Turns Down Proposal to Finish Work on 8 Movies. (1960, March 7). Los Angeles Times,1. Retrieved June 24, 2008
  7. HARRY BERNSTEIN (1978, December 20). Actors in Radio, TV Commercials Strike :Unions Say Ad Agencies Seek More Work for Less Money. Los Angeles Times,p. oc_a12. Retrieved June 24, 2008
  8. Facts on File 1980 Yearbook, p805
  9. See the reported list here; Studios brace for life without scribes - Entertainment News, Business News, Media - Variety; Film studios braced for strike by Hollywood writers and actors - Times Online; Strike Threat Spreads Panic in Hollywood; SAG nation board votes to request Federal mediator before sending strike authorization to members; Reporter

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