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Industry Takes: Modernizing the Commercials Contract


An Approved Agreement

The National Board at SAG-AFTRA has unanimously approved the successor contracts previously agreed upon by the Union and the Joint Policy Committee earlier this month. The agreement represents a significant effort to address the changing nature of commercial advertising in the modern era. As the Union sends the contracts to its members, we hope to learn more about what the members will be asked to ratify.

The Details

The biggest piece of information to emerge from the approval is clarification on a “new compensation model with more flexibility,” that SAG-AFTRA hinted at in its April 2nd press release. We now know that it most likely refers to New Upfront Use Packages, which provides performers with substantial upfront payments, and creates flexibility for employers seeking to work under the Union’s jurisdiction. This would indicate that negotiations have attempted to solve issues by offering buyouts and scaling back on the cost of union productions, even as SAG-AFTRA members are reported to see across-the-board wage increases of 6 percent.

The Union Says “Time’s Up”

Among the other changes that SAG-AFTRA members will be voting on, are stronger protections against workplace sexual harassment. The union has established new guidelines in the wake of the Time’s Up and “Me Too” movements, calling for an end to the practice of professional meetings in private hotel rooms, or residences. The terms presented in the new commercial agreement spurs hope that sexual harassment policies will be more contractually binding. There will also be new coverage of stunt coordinators and increased funding to health and pension plans.

Ads Go Union?

The conversation between the labor union and advertisers has been at times contentious, fueled by a commercial production market bursting at the seams with digital content and a wide range of productions choosing to film without a union contract. Ad agencies are increasingly pressured to cut costs, and overhead for talent is often the first thing to go. Additionally, established ad agencies are seeking to compete with newer agencies, often specializing in digital. These agencies are  launching without being signatories to union agreements, and are underbidding their more established counterparts.

In response, SAG-AFTRA has leveraged the strength of its star power to shift the balance for working actors by launching the Ad’s Go Union campaign. Clever use of A-list talent is not, however, the only strategy the union has endorsed in the ongoing discord. The union has issued “Do Not Work” orders against signatory violators and has been on strike with Bartle Bogle Hegarty since Sept 20th. There can be little doubt that when SAG-AFTRA membership vote on the new agreements, it will represent a referendum on the efficacy of these efforts.

Stay Tuned

The voting deadline is May 8th and union members will be able to vote online or by requesting paper ballots. If the new agreements are ratified they will become retroactively effective April 1, 2019, and will run through March 31, 2022. New Upfront Use Packages are expected to become available on June 1. If everything is approved, Casting Networks hopes to go in depth on what new terms mean for casting directors, talent representatives, and actors.