Hanging Out With Unite For Strength (or Talking About The Union)

Remember how the other day I blogged about skipping a couple of actor events? I definitely made up for it over this past weekend! Not only did I have the Netflix event on Saturday, there was a fun get together with fellow actors who also were part of the Unite For Strength slate when we had the SAG-AFTRA elections last summer!

Technically after the SAG-AFTRA convention my work as a delegate was done. I can try to join different committees and I can be as involved in various events as I’d like (just like any other SAG-AFTRA member), but there are no other responsibilities as a delegate other than to represent my fellow actors at the convention and to vote on different things at the convention with their best interest in mind.

Since my delegate work was done, I’m so glad that this gathering was organized for us to see each other again and to discuss recent or upcoming union issues. It was held at the house of one of the actors who ran on the Unite For Strength slate and it was pretty casual. There was a ton of food (I feel bad that I didn’t bring anything with me) and it almost felt more like a reunion than anything else. Most of the people there were people I hadn’t seen since the convention because I have not been as active in the union as I was hoping to be so far.

We’ve had a lot of things happening in SAG-AFTRA lately. One of the biggest, and saddest, things that has happened since the convention was the passing of Ken Howard who was the SAG-AFTRA President. It was a big blow to all actors when Ken passed away. He was an amazing advocate for actors and he was one actors who helped to get the merger of the unions to happen. I know that we all miss him and while we know that the new president, Gabrielle Carteris, will do an amazing job we all wish that he was able to complete the term he was elected into.

On a happier note, the union is celebrating the very recent passing of the new commercials contract. This contract will give us raises in our work and will also help to protect us as actors in the new landscape of commercials. Since there are digital commercials (like what you see on YouTube or Hulu) plus ads through social media (like twitter and Facebook), we need to have policies in place for those and this new contract is getting that started. The new contact was passed by over 92% of those who voted, but we are all a little saddened that only 13% of those who could vote did so. We were trying to share ideas of how to encourage our fellow actors to vote because I feel like more actors should be voting on major issues like new contracts.

Along with the commercial contract, we also were discussing the Best In The Biz campaign that SAG-AFTRA has to help organize commercials to get them organized as union contracts. When I was non-union, there were quite a few non-union commercials, but now it seems like non-union commercials are a bigger percentage of commercials than ever. Non-union commercials can pay actors whatever they want and don’t have to follow the same rules as far as how long they can run the commercials or residuals.

I did a non-union commercial back in 2007, and it’s actually still running now. When I did that commercial, I made $500 for the day (which I was so happy about) and didn’t think about it. But since it was non-union, I haven’t gotten any residuals for the 9 years it has run so far and I have no idea how long they will continue to run it. And while it’s on the air, it’s considered a conflict for any products that might be a competitor. I didn’t realize what I had done when I did that commercial, but that’s why I’m so passionate about getting commercials organized to be union and not non-union. I don’t want to see other actors get into deals like I had and aren’t making what is fair for that job. Major multi-million dollar corporations are doing non-union commercials and there is no reason for them to not be union.

There is also currently a campaign to get Spanish-language jobs to be union so those actors get the same pay and benefits as the actors who work on English-language jobs. I don’t know too much about this situation, but I agree that all actors should be equal under contracts. You shouldn’t be paid less (or not get eligibility for union benefits like health insurance and pension) because a show is in Spanish and not English within the same studio system.

The last thing I got to hear about was the new opportunities that there are for union actors to volunteer within the MOVE (Members Organizing Volunteer Efforts) program. I have signed up to be a part of MOVE and I do get the emails about the various events. So far, they have been when I couldn’t attend. But I’m really hoping to be able to join something soon. Just this past weekend, they helped the post office sort donations that were given during the Stamp-Out Hunger drive where people in LA left canned goods in a paper bag for their postal carrier to take. I wanted to help, but I had the Netflix event at lunchtime and then I had to go straight from that to a babysitting job. But they have other programs like the Senior Buddies and attending various charity walks that I think I might be able to do at some point this year.

I’m hoping that we can have another hangout like this in the near future. It’s a great way for me to stay informed about what is happening in SAG-AFTRA and then I can share that knowledge with others. There’s always a ton happening in the union (and we get a lot of emails every day), so I know that people might miss things from time to time. I want to continue to be a leader for others within the union and to help promote events and issues that I think other actors need to be aware of or to take action upon.

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