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Mona Lee

What We Learned & Achieved from the Strike
by Mona Lee

December 2000

"I’m not sorry the actor’s strike against the advertiser’s is over, but I sure miss reading the news." I hear this frequently from actors, and I agree. I really liked being in touch with actors in other cities. I believe we got a good deal, but we won much more than that. Texas actors who didn’t audition for struck work or accept struck work jobs helped to save the livelihood for actors everywhere. Through the cyberspace newsletters and web sites I got to read what actors from all the different cities across the nation had to say, and that helped me feel more connected to the industry as a whole. Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists are two unions comprised of vastly different people coming from all kinds of cultures and ethnicities with many different opinions of how things should be done. It’s a Pure-D Miracle that we became a force able to execute a strike of this magnitude. Thank you to all of you who did your part no matter how big or small. You helped to insure that SAG & AFTRA will have a future. As a member, I can hardly express the pride I feel that Texas union and nonunion actors joined together to fight for what is fair and right.

Actors got a good deal, but those who became involved got more than saving their livelihood. I, for one, learned a whole hell of a lot. I was surprised about how strongly I felt about supporting this cause. Strong emotions would come up in me in waves. Though uncomfortable, those emotions helped me to clarify what I am about. Here is a compilation of what actors from Texas and around the country said they learned from the strike.

What we learned from this strike.

We learned we really value our profession.

We learned working people have to stand up for their futures in the new economy. As the economy shifts, workers across the nation are coming together through their unions to make sure they have a fair share of the future. We learned to respect picket lines for the rest of our lives. That means supporting fellow IATSE, Teamster, WGA, DGA and AFL-CIO members in their time of need.

We learned that powerful corporations can be held accountable by committed individuals.

We learned we can stand up to people in power. It’s okay to have people angry at you if you are standing up for what you believe in.

We learned actors need to stay in touch with each other--to come together in community.

We learned it is wrong to underpay actors, that it is important to stand up to that arrogant attitude--”Heck, they should be glad they are getting paid peanuts”.

We learned to let others have their viewpoint even though it differs from ours. Some people will just not get our viewpoint and it’s important to let them have theirs even if they want to dominate and control you.

We learned that people together can do amazing things.

We learned that we do not have to totally agree with someone to stand strong with them.

We learned that sometimes there is nothing you can do.

We learned that one person can make a difference.

We learned that we are much more than our work in the entertainment industry.

We learned that we forgive people, not for them, but for own selves.

We learned that the union is not a building in downtown Dallas, Houston, or in LA. It is not any one group of people, it is all of us together. We are the union.

We learned how to be strong in the face of adversity.

We learned patience pays off.

We learned we needed to be more involved with union business in Texas. The reason advertising agencies and some casting directors could set up struck work productions was because the union voice in Texas had weakened. Our union is significantly stronger, but much work is needed. Nonunion actors need to be educated about the importance of union. Eligible actors need to be encouraged to join. Together we can help reshape the unions' goals and structure.

Mona Lee
a new Secretary/Treasurer for the Houston Screen Actors Guild Local

What we Achieved.

After 175 days of the longest strike in the history of the entertainment industry, negotiators from AFTRA & SAG were able to achieve a settlement that protected members against industry attempts to rollback wages, while also advancing our cause in the cable and Internet arenas.

At the time the strike began on May 1, there were 4 major issues keeping the two sides apart. Here is a review of those issues and the outcomes in each.

  • Class A Network Commercials – the industry attempted to force a pay cut by eliminating pay-per-play, a concept that had been part of the Commercials Contract for over 40 years. Our negotiating team withstood this onslaught and even managed a slight increase in session pay.

  • Cable Commercials – our team went into the negotiations with a proposal to replicate the pay-per-play formula in the cable arena. While they were not successful in achieving this goal, they did bring home increases in session fees under cable amounting to 100% over the life of the contract.

  • Monitoring of Commercials – our own random study had shown that performers were consistently being underpaid for their work. Our negotiators hammered out an agreement that within six months, a joint union/industry team will announce their progress in developing a system for monitoring the use of commercials.

  • Internet Commercials – despite industry reluctance, we were able to establish jurisdiction over commercials made expressly for the Internet. This means that members will do this work under a union contract and receive the same health and retirement contributions as for all other work. Actual rates are left to be negotiated by the performer. (Note: Broadcast commercials which ‘travel’ to the Internet require payment equal to 3X the original session fee. Internet commercials which travel to broadcast require payment under the appropriate broadcast commercial schedule.)

The settlement received approval by a meeting of the Joint Boards of AFTRA & SAG on October 28. At that time, the Boards issued a back-to-work order and called for a ratification vote. Ratification ballots have been mailed. Both National Boards recommend a YES vote.

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