How SAG-AFTRA works

SAG-AFTRA is the largest of the entertainment unions, including the Directors Guild, Writers Guild, IATSE, and Teamsters. Their purpose is to negotiate and enforce the best possible employment contracts for their members.

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Several separate companies, with their own leadership, serve our members in different ways, including the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan (health insurance), SAG and AFTRA Pension Plans (retirement income), Motion Picture Television Fund (senior care), Actors Fund (financial, social, and employment services), SAG-AFTRA and Actors Federal Credit Unions (banking), and the SAG-AFTRA Foundation (emergency assistance, education, and support resources).

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What type of organization is SAGAFTRA? How is it structured?
SAG-AFTRA is a member-run union, which means that even though we employ around 600 paid staff, they take their direction from us, the members, who volunteer in leadership positions.

SAG-AFTRA has two levels of government, National and Local.

Understanding our NATIONAL government:
The National level controls all the finances, operations, and strategy of SAG-AFTRA as a whole, in accordance with the policies set in its National Constitution.

The National level has three parts:
1 :: Member Leaders: A National President, Executive Vice President, Secretary-Treasurer, 7 Vice Presidents, and an 80 member National Board of Directors.

2 :: National Staff: A National Executive Director and other Executive Staff, and hundreds of national employees, including attorneys, contract staff, and field reps.

3 :: National Convention: A biennial (meaning every two years. I had to look it up.) National Convention attended by around 350 elected Delegates.

Understanding our LOCAL government:
The Locals are the 25 regional offices around the country that serve members in their areas. They each have their own Local Governments, including Presidents, Vice Presidents, and their own Local Board of Directors, and its own Local Constitution, which is why there can be different policies around the country.


ELECTIONS: How do they work?
Here’s how our elections work. Every two years, elections are held in every Local. Members vote for their Local Presidents, Vice Presidents, and Local Board members, for members of their Local to serve as National Board members and Convention Delegates, and for the National President and Secretary Treasurer.

One month after all the Local elections are over, all the elected Convention Delegates gather in Los Angeles for a two-day Convention.

Two things happen at the Convention:

1 :: The delegates elect the Executive Vice President and seven National Vice Presidents, representing Los Angeles, New York, Mid-size Locals, Small Locals, Actors/Performers, Broadcasters, and Recording Artists/Singers.

2 :: Every delegate has the opportunity to write and submit resolutions to be discussed and voted on by all the delegates at the Convention, which become strong recommendations to the National Board if passed.

Also after the elections, the newly elected Presidents then fill the Committees under their jurisdiction, subject to approval by their Boards. Committees are volunteer groups of members responsible for managing an area of union operations and directing the union’s staff. The person that leads each Committee is called the Chair.

SAG-AFTRA’s National President chooses the Chairpersons for each of the 40 National Committees. In the same respect, each Local President chooses the Chairpersons for each of their Local Committees, the number of which can vary depending on the Local. The Chairs then choose which members they want to fill their committees.

Business brought up in the boardroom is referred to the appropriate committee, which then addresses the matter and makes a recommendation about it to the Board in a future meeting for approval.

All staff of the union, including the Executive Directors of the 25 Locals, are under the administration of the National Executive Director. The National Executive Director reports to the National President and the National Board.

Every SAG-AFTRA member belongs to a performer category: Actors/Performers, Stunts, Dancers, Broadcasters, & Recording Artists/Singers. 

SAG-AFTRA maintains over 40 separate employment contracts covering the work of its members. Some contracts are created by the union itself. Other contracts have to be negotiated with employers or bargaining entities representing multiple employers, like the Joint Policy Committee (JPC) for commercials and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) for network television shows and studio feature films.


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Here’s how a contract negotiation works:

SAG-AFTRA first holds open meetings, called W&Ws (Wages & Working Conditions) where members can come and share their experiences, issues, and propose what they think should be in the next contract.

Next, the National President chooses the Chair of the Negotiating Committee, who then populates the rest of the committee, usually with a combination of members with negotiation experience and members who attended and added value to the W&W process.

The negotiating committee reviews the proposals that were passed in all the Locals’ W&W meetings along with staff proposals and then decides which ones to prioritize and include in the negotiation package offered to the employer bargaining entity.

Negotiations usually start six weeks before the contract expires. As soon as a deal is reached, the Negotiating Committee presents the terms to the National Board for approval. If the National Board approves it, it is then sent to the members for a vote. If the members approve it. The contract takes effect for the term, usually three years.

After the negotiation is over, SAG-AFTRA maintains a committee of members, called a Standing Committee, for all the major contracts, to address any issues that come up with it during its effective term.

If a deal is not reached during a negotiation, SAG-AFTRA leadership may ask the membership for a strike authorization, which gives the union permission to call for a strike stopping its members from working for the employers associated with the expired contract until a new deal is reached.

If the membership does not authorize a strike, it means they refuse to stop working for the employers involved, and the negotiating committee must then go make a deal to the best of its ability.

Performers can qualify for healthcare and retirement income if their earnings from working under SAG-AFTRA contracts go above certain thresholds over a period of time.

For example, if a performer earns over $17,000 in a calendar year they qualify for health insurance by the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan for the following year. And if a performer earns over $20,000 in a calendar year, they earn a pension credit. If they meet that threshold for five years without a permanent break in service, or any ten years over the course of their career, they qualify for monthly retirement income when they retire, managed by the SAG or AFTRA Pension Plans, depending on the contract under which the work was done.

That’s the basics of how our union works. You’re now a pro! Go forth and prosper!
Let me know if you think I should include anything else and I’ll add it when I can.