Union Plus recently awarded $150,000 in scholarships to 104 students representing 32 unions, including two winners representing SAG-AFTRA. This year’s group of scholarship recipients includes university, college, and trade or technical school students from 32 states. The SAG-AFTRA winners are:
Conner Calabro of Studio City, Calif. Calabro, whose father, Thomas Calabro, is a member of SAG-AFTRA, has been awarded a $1,000 scholarship. Calabro is a sociology and film and media studies major at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. Conner said her father, an active union member since 1982, showed her that simply being a member is not enough. “I’ve watched him stand behind the union issues, always supporting the propositions and legislation advocated by the union and in the best interest of its members,” she said.
Tessa Germaine of Trabuco Canyon, Calif. Germaine, a 2016 high school graduate and member of SAG-AFTRA, has been awarded a $1,000 scholarship. Germaine, a union member since 2006, said SAG-AFTRA has ensured numerous benefits for her as a young performer, including safety, proper wages, and attention to her educational needs. “Being a union member has given me more opportunities as an actor, artist and person,” she said. “Without labor unions to look out for us, the labor force would greatly suffer.”
The Union Plus Scholarship Program, now in its 25th year, awards scholarships based onoutstanding academic achievement, personal character, financial need and commitment to the values of organized labor. The program is offered through the Union Plus Education Foundation. Visit UnionPlus.org/Scholarship for applications and benefit eligibility.
Gabrielle Carteris, president of SAG-AFTRA, will lead the contract negotiating committee for the performers union for a successor deal to the current master contract.
SAG-AFTRA’s national board approved the appointment of Carteris at its meeting this weekend. The current three- year contract expires on June 30, 2017.
The union has not set a start date for negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The Directors Guild of America, which has a contract that also expires on June 30, has also not yet set a date.
The SAG-AFTRA constitution requires that the committee hold a series of meetings with members in a “wages and working conditions” process to hammer our contract proposals prior to negotiations with the AMPTP.
“I’m honored that the board chose me to lead these crucial negotiations on the entertainment contracts covering motion pictures, television series, and new media,” Carteris said. “I’m looking forward to collaborating with SAG-AFTRA members during the Wages and Working Conditions process.”
Carteris was named by the national board to succeed the late Ken Howard as president in April, a month after Howard passed away unexpectedly. She’s filling the unexpired term of Howard, which will conclude in August, 2017.
The Writers Guild of America’s master contract expires two months ahead of those of the DGA and SAG-AFTRA but the WGA leaders usually opt to wait until the DGA and SAG-AFTRA have reached tentative agreements before launching its own negotiations.
Tea Party activist Norm Novitsky’s In Search of Liberty, a crowdfunded feature film about the U.S. Constitution, has been shut down in Savannah, GA, after 30 members of his crew walked off the job. The group, made up mostly of students and recent graduates from the Savannah College of Art and Design, had been seeking union representation, living wages and reclassification as employees rather than independent contractors.
The film, which stars Food Network host Bobby Deen, son of reality star Paula Deen, bills itself as a “a straight-to-DVD release that tells the story of a captivating statesman from America’s past” who takes a present-day family on a series of wild adventures that “opens their eyes to the origins and importance of the U.S. Constitution, the degree to which it is under attack and what can be done to save it.
IATSE has filed unfair labor practices charges with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming union reps were subjected to threats and acts of intimidation during their efforts to organize the workers. A member of the crew is scheduled to present evidence Monday to the wage and hour division of the U.S. Department of Labor that crew members were not paid minimum wages and did not receive overtime pay.
Novitsky did not return calls for comment on this report.
“The conduct of this company is utterly disgraceful,” said Darla McGlamery, business rep of IATSE Cinematographers Guild Local 600 in Atlanta. “These courageous young people have sought only to be treated as industry professionals consistent with the employment and labor laws of the United States.”
Said IATSE internal rep Scott Harbinson, who led the drive to unionize the production: “The irony and hypocrisy of a Tea Party activist like Norm Novitsky misclassifying employees as independent contractors in order to push payroll tax burdens from themselves on to employees – all the while seeking a $300,000 incentive from the taxpayers of the state of Georgia – is lost on no one.
“This is a million-dollar film by a Tea Party activist whose crew was probably 90% kids from the Savannah College of Art and Design,” Harbinson told Deadline. “They were very excited to work on a real movie. But when they took the job, they got an ugly taste of what the real world can look like. One of the older students let us know that they were abusing the kids – not just with the pay and conditions, but verbally abusing them. Many of these kids were making less than minimum wage and had to sign deal memos saying they that were independent contractors and declaring that they were not members of the union.”
Harbinson, an IATSE organizer for 28 years, flew into town last Saturday and that day received cards from 26 crew members authorizing the union as their bargaining representative. But when the film company, BlueNile Films, refused to recognize the union, he said, “We directed the entire crew to convince the company that we represent them by not showing up for work.”
The crew, most in their early 20s, went on strike Sunday. Later that day, the company then sent them emails threatening to have them arrested if they didn’t return company equipment in their possession.
“We understand that you have broken your contract as of today,” the emails said. “We will be doing an inventory of all the equipment and other possessions of the production company. If you have any items that belong to the production company, all items in your possession must be returned by 3 pm, July 3rd, 2016. Any items not returned will be reported to authorities as stolen, including cars, keys, walkie-talkies, prepaid debit cards, etc.”
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Harbinson said. “So I told the kids to bring all the stuff to our hotel. Darlalogged all the equipment and gave the kids a receipt. They gave the director of photography a picture car – an SUV – and he brought it over to hotel parking lot and gave us the key. He was scared. I then called Chip Lane, the show’s production manager, and told him that the crew had turned the property over to us and to come pick it up. He told me he was going to have me arrested and that the police were on their way and that I’d ‘never see the outside of a prison gate.’”
Harbinson piled all the equipment into the SUV, wrapped the key in tin foil to defeat the car’s anti-locking device, tossed it on the seat and shut the door, locking everything inside so it couldn’t be stolen.
When the police and the production manager arrived at the hotel, Harbinson said, “The cop looked like he wanted to arrest me. I asked him to hear my side of the story, and explained the timeline to him. He said, ‘Where are the keys?’ I said I locked them in the car. Chip was screaming and waving his arms. He told the cop that there are no other keys. The officer seemed amused by all this.”
The policeman said, “I have no basis to arrest y’all,” and a few hours later, a locksmith showed up to unlock the SUV.
That Monday was a holiday, but the union set about to make sure the company wouldn’t be able to find “scabs” to replace the striking students. After word came back to organizers the company was looking for replacements, they told local IATSE members to go ahead and accept the jobs — with the understanding they would not show up for work.
“They were dark Tuesday and Wednesday,” Harbinson said, “and they finally issued call sheets for Thursday. And then the wheels came off. They had 70 extras and a band and a camera crane all set for a big day of shooting, and they were very smug thinking they’d beaten these kids.”
It didn’t take long for the film’s producers to realize they’d been punked, and that no one was going to show up to take the strikers’ jobs — even though some of the “scabs” they’d thought they’d hired had been promised five times what the original crew had been making.
On Thursday, the company shuttered the production. “The union is shutting the production down and we will not be filming anytime in the foreseeable future,” the company told the crew in an email yesterday. “We appreciate your effort over the past couple of days, and you will be paid for the rate agreed upon for the days you were on board.”
The young crew lost a few days of work but gained a valuable experience.
“This is the most rewarding organizing effort that I can ever remember,” Harbinson said. “It didn’t end the way we wanted – with a contract – but it expressed the fundamental mission of labor, which is to empower workers to stand up for their rights. These kids are the true heroes of this story, and every one of those kids now has a card with the IATSE. And I’m willing to bet that they are going to be some of the best members we’ve ever had.”
Earnings by members of the WGA West topped $1 billion last year for a fifth year in a row, although total employment was down 1.6% from the previous year, according to the guild’s latest earnings report.
Film writers, who have seen a steady erosion of income over the last 20 years, saw a 1.9% increase in earnings last year and employment was up 3.6% to 1,799 jobs. Even so, except for 2013 and 2014, last year’s $362.1 million in film earnings was lower than every year since 1997.
Television continues to be the booming marketplace for writers, who earned more than twice as much last year as film writers. And although TV writers saw a 2% decline in earnings from record levels in 2014, they topped $800 million for a second year in a row – double their earnings in 2000.
Overall, the guild reported that its own finances are on solid footing. According to the report, the WGAW ended the fiscal year with total net assets of more than $53 million, and had an operating surplus of $3.6 million based on revenues of $30.7 million. “The surplus was the product of growth in total writer compensation, a result of increased numbers of writers employed in the television and new media sectors,” the report said.
Meanwhile, residuals hit a record high of $400 million in 2015, up 3.4% from 2014. This marks the third year in a row residuals have exceeded $350 million, rising 5.6% in television but declining 0.5% in film.
Contract enforcement of unpaid residuals also set a record last year, with the guild collecting more than $45 million on behalf of writers – up more than $20 million from the previous year, and up nearly four times the amount collected in 2009.
The guild’s foreign levies program distributed another $12.4 million to writers and heirs during the last fiscal year. To date, the program has collected more than $218 million on behalf of guild members and their heirs.