Research on a famous labor union, The Screen Actors Guild- American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, was examined in depth to provide more understanding and knowledge. Topics covered in this research include SAG-AFTRA’s history, current demographics, targeted industries, current issues, and the union’s prominent strikes, negotiations, and bargaining attempts. Together, this research provided information on the acting and entertainment’s long journey to correct and improve labor related issues. Keywords: labor, union, acting, media,
The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists
With its mystique and glamour, it’s no surprise that the Screen Actors Guild is one of the most recognized unions in the history of the labor movement. They bill themselves as “The Most Distinguished Performer’s Union in the World” and in 2012, they made headlines by announcing their merger with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Ken Howard, co-president of SAG-AFTA, said the two unions merged in order to combine “the best elements of both unions and position [SAG-AFTRA] well to thrive in the changing 21st century media landscape” (Howard, 2012). The merger means that this fascinating union now collectively bargains on behalf of “more than 160,000 actors, announcers, broadcasters, journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists and other media professionals” (Screen Actor’s Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists [SAG-AFTRA], Membership, 2013). Notable members include Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Owen Wilson and many other A-list actors (Moraski, 2012).
SAG-AFTRA is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and values inclusion of all races, religions, genders, disabilities, sexual orientations, etc. The union’s mission is to ensure the “best wages, working conditions, and health and pension benefits; preserving and expanding members’ work opportunities; vigorously enforcing our contracts; and protecting members against unauthorized use of their work” (SAG-AFTRA, 2013). Analyzing the union’s history, demographics, targeted industries, current issues, and prominent strikes provides the foundation for understanding how SAG-AFTRA became one of the most unique and glamorous unions in the history of the labor movement.
The History of SAG-AFTRA
According to SAG-AFTRA (2013), SAG was created to support protection for movie, television actors, and background performers from all around the world. For the first time, actors were empowered to exert influence on their public and personal lives (SAG, 2013).
Prindle’s (1988) study stated that actors were unsatisfied with their working conditions before SAG existed and felt as if the amount of income they acquired through their career was not equivalent to the amount of labor they had contributed. Actors were expected to sign contracts without having benefits such as restrictions on work hours, minimum break periods, required meal breaks, and their contracts were repeatedly renewed at the studio’s discretion. Despite the fact that labor organizations had a bad reputation, these conditions caused actors to become stressed and exhausted to where they could no longer handle management’s demands on their own. Actors searched for solutions to deal with this major problem, later creating SAG. (p.3).
The collaboration that led to the formation of SAG was the main concern that came from the Masquers Club, formed by actors in Hollywood who were not pleased by the grueling working hours in the Hollywood studios (SAG, 2013). Similar associations were The Dominos and The Hollywood Cricket Club. Another major influence in the formation process of the union was the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which was known to determine the