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Friday, March 21, 2014

The Screen Actors Guild 1975 to 1999


By Art Lynch


In 1975 Kathleen Nolan succeeded Weaver, becoming the first female president of anyAmerican union. She became a fearless fighter against discrimination of any kind.  As theappointee of  Jimmy Carter, Nolan became the first performer of any kind to be appointedto the Board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (Krizman & Yaros, 2000).With increasingly liberal leadership, under William Schallert from 1979 to 1980, EdAsner from 1981 to 1985, Patty Duke from 1985 to 1988 and Barry Gordon from 1988until 1995, the Guild entered its most militant strike period.  In 1980 a four month strikewas fought over the future of compensation for pay TV, cable, videocassette and the yetto be named predecessor to DVD, the videodisc. Setting the stage for the 2000commercial contract negotiations, SAG members in 1979 and 1980 were told that oncenegotiated compensation terms would be difficult to change later. SAG struck again over similar issues in other areas of jurisdiction in 1987 and 1988. But the longest and mostdevastating strike of the decade effected SAG as a supporting sister union to the WritersGuild, which struck for 154 days in 1988, in effect shutting down production for an entirebroadcast television season (Krizman & Yaros, 2000).In 1974 the Nevada branch of the Screen Actors Guild was formed in Las Vegas. Inthe later 1970s and early 1980s additional branches were formed in Philadelphia, SanDiego, Atlanta, Arizona and Houston (http://www.sag.org).In 1980, the over 50,000 members looked with interest at a possible reuniting merger with the Screen Extras Guild and with their independent sister, the American Federationof Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). Meanwhile the negotiating units for management did merge into the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, against whom SAG negotiates theatrical, meaning film and television, contracts(AMPTP) (http://www.sag.org).In 1990, after two failed merger ballots and the bankruptcy of SEG, by emergencyaction of the National Board of Directors, the Screen Actors Guild regained backgroundtalent or extras jurisdiction on a national basis
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Precedent was found in SAG's continuous jurisdiction over background talent in the New York City market, dating back to the formation of the Guild. As a result of failed merger initiatives, SAG could not assume full jurisdiction and had to enter into and accept a lower base of compensation for background talent. Despite a lack of support from membership, the National Board of Directors felt that to allow a large segment of performers to be left without union representation was not an acceptable alternative. This division within membership remains an issue today (http://www.sag.org).According to SAG statistics, in 1996 more than 85 percent of SAG’s 90,000 members earned less than $5,000 a year under Guild contracts  (SAG Annual Report, 1997). While seven-digit movie deals make headlines for some stars, creating a false impression that all actors are highly paid, the reality is far less glamorous. The second half of the 1990s saw a major call for increased income, stronger contract protection and the protection of performers' images and talents using any and all legal and contractual means possible.

The union joined the international fight for intellectual, property and human rightsthrough aggressive and expensive membership in organization such as the WorldIntellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and a legislative lobbying focus on basichuman rights. SAG supported unsuccessful attempts at a National Health Plan, steppedup a renewed fight against run-away production, this time defining it as any production

26filmed or taped for principal distribution within the United States which is shot in itsentirety or in principal amount outside of this country. The use of member funds in whatsome perceived as political pursuits contributed to dissident opposition, which as thedecade progressed became a part of more organized dissension against elected officersand staff. Under presidents Gordan (1990-1995) and Richard Masur (1995-1999), SAGtook aggressive steps to become a truly national union, with membership representationcoast to coast. At the same time as talks of a merger with AFTRA began to bear fruit, anaggressive expansion of branches from Puerto Rico to Hawaii occurred, with SAG’sbranch offices numbering 36 by 1999, when joint AFTRA-SAG offices are considered(Krizman & Yaros, 2000).C

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