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Understanding the New SAG-AFTRA Agreement for 2021: Key Developments and Implications

The Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) is the largest union representing performers, broadcasters, and recording artists in the entertainment industry. Its members include actors, voice-over artists, singers, and other media professionals who work in film, television, radio, commercials, and other areas. SAG-AFTRA negotiates and enforces collective bargaining agreements with employers on behalf of its members, aiming to secure fair wages, benefits, and working conditions.

In March 2021, SAG-AFTRA announced that it had reached a new agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), a trade association that represents major studios and production companies, for a successor contract that will cover film and TV work from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2024. The negotiation process, which began in May 2020 and involved several rounds of talks, was complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted the industry`s production schedules and safety protocols. However, the final deal was endorsed by the SAG-AFTRA National Board and approved by the union`s members with a 97% vote in favor.

So, what are the main provisions of the new SAG-AFTRA agreement for 2021, and what are their possible implications for performers and producers? Here are some highlights:

1. Wage Increases and Bonuses

The new agreement includes wage increases for most performers, with a 2.5% increase in minimum salaries for film and TV work each year. Additionally, performers who work on high-budget streaming programs (with budgets over $100 million) will get an extra 1% wage increase. There are also new bonus payments for performers who work multiple days and have speaking parts on certain types of programs or platforms, such as animation, basic cable, and short-form streaming. These bonuses range from $25 to $400 per day, depending on the contract and the platform.

Implication: For performers, the new agreement means that they will receive higher base pay and additional rewards for their contributions to certain types of productions. This can help them to earn a more sustainable income and recognize their creative value. For producers, the cost of hiring union performers will increase, especially for high-budget streaming projects. They may need to adjust their budgets and project schedules accordingly, or negotiate for waivers or alternative compensation models.

2. Health and Pension Contributions

The new agreement includes increases in the contributions that employers must make to the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan and Retirement Plan on behalf of covered performers. The contribution rate for the Health Plan will rise from 19.5% to 21% of covered earnings, and the contribution rate for the Retirement Plan will rise from 16.5% to 17.5% of covered earnings. These increases aim to address the financial challenges that both plans have faced due to rising healthcare costs and investment losses.

Implication: For performers, the new agreement means that they will receive more support for their health and retirement benefits, which are crucial for their long-term well-being and security. For producers, the cost of contributing to the union health and pension plans will increase, which may affect their budgeting and hiring decisions. They may also face additional administrative burdens and compliance requirements.

3. COVID-19 Safety Protocols

The new agreement includes provisions for maintaining and enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols on set, in line with the SAG-AFTRA Safe Way Forward recommendations and guidelines. These protocols cover a wide range of issues, such as testing, masking, social distancing, ventilation, and contingency planning. They also provide for compensation for performers who are required to quarantine or isolate due to exposure or infection, as well as reimbursement for certain out-of-pocket expenses related to COVID-19.

Implication: For performers, the new agreement means that they will have better protection and assurances against the health risks of working during the pandemic. For producers, the new protocols may add complexity and costs to the production process, but they are necessary for maintaining a safe and healthy working environment for all involved. Compliance with these protocols may also become a factor in negotiations and disputes between the union and the employers.

Overall, the new SAG-AFTRA agreement for 2021 represents a significant milestone for the union and the industry, as it reflects the challenges and opportunities of the changing media landscape and the ongoing effects of the pandemic. While the agreement addresses many important issues for performers and producers, there are still some areas of concern and uncertainty, such as the impact of new media models and the sustainability of the union health and pension plans. Nevertheless, the agreement provides a framework for collaboration and progress, which can benefit all stakeholders and advance the quality and diversity of media content.