Labor Union

Screen Actors Guild (SAG)

Logo of Screen Actors Guild (link)
Website:

www.sagaftra.org/

Location:

Los Angeles, CA

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(5)

Formation:

1933

Founder:

Ralph Morgan

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) was a labor union that focuses on representing people who work in media such as television, radio, theater, and recording studios. It merged with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) in 2012, creating SAG-AFTRA, which has approximately 160,000 members. [1]

Before its merger with the AFTRA, the Screen Actors Guild received just over $52 million in total revenue but paid over $54.5 million in total expenses. [2]

The former chief information technology officer for the Screen Actors Guild Pension and Health Plans pleaded guilty to tax fraud in 2015 for filing a false income return after he failed to report more than $700,000 in kickbacks he received. [3] The United States Department of Labor also found that more than $750,000 was misappropriated from the Pension and Health Plans in 2017. According to sources within SAG, the misappropriated funds stem from improper spending on holiday, retirement and anniversary parties, limos, meetings, and excessive spending on meals. [4]

Its most prominent member was future President Ronald Reagan, who headed SAG from 1947-1952 and from 1959-1960. [5]

Founding

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) was a labor union formed in 1933 after a meeting between six actors, including SAG’s first president Ralph Morgan, decided to create a self-governing body for film actors that would welcome anyone as a member, opposite to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in which members could only join by invitation. [6]

The labor union started small, but protests against President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s National Recovery Administration’s proposed Motion Picture Code of Fair Competition resulted in many actors leaving the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in October 1933. These actors included big names at the time including Eddie Cantor, who took over SAG’s presidency when Morgan offered him the position due to Cantor’s higher status and personal friendship with President Roosevelt. After a visit from Cantor, President Roosevelt suspended the protested provisions of the Motion Picture Code. [7]

The Screen Actors Guild became the undisputed union for motion picture actors in 1934 after Actors’ Equity, the union of stage performers, formally yielded its claim to organize screen actors. It was granted an American Federation of Labor charter by the Associated Actors and Artistes of America in 1935. [8]

President Ronald Reagan became an official member of the Screen Actors Guild in 1937 and was elected as its president in 1947. [9]

The Screen Actors Guild merged with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in 2012, creating SAG-AFTRA, which has approximately 160,000 members who work in media such as television, radio, theater, and recording studios. [10]

Funding

The Screen Actors Guild was slowly declining in revenue between 2008 and when it merged with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in 2012. SAG received approximately $62.5 million in total revenue and paid slightly over $58 million in total revenue in 2008,[11] it then received just under $60 million in total revenue and paid just over $64 million in total expenses in 2009,[12] received just over $56 million in total revenue and paid approximately $57.5 million in total expenses in 2010,[13] and received approximately $54.5 million in total revenue and paid over $58 million in total expenses in 2011. [14]

In 2012, the year SAG would merge with AFTRA to form SAG-AFTRA, the labor union received just over $52 million in total revenue but paid over $54.5 million in total expenses. [15]

After the merger, revenue has been consistently in the positive, with the labor union earning a net positive income of $8.6 million in 2014, $9.4 million in 2015, $12.4 million in 2016, slightly over $14 million in 2017. [16] The consistent increase of income stopped in 2018 when SAG-AFTRA received just under $8 million in net income, the lowest since the merger. [17]

Political Activities

Cold War Era

Ten members of the Screen Actors Guild were held in contempt of Congress when they refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), an investigative committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, as it attempted to probe alleged communist influence and subversive activities in the entertainment history in 1947. [18]

Forty-one screenwriters, directors, and producers, were asked: “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” Most of the witnesses called were named “friendly” as they answered the question, and those that answered “yes” to the question were able to regain their standing with HUAC by naming “fellow travelers.” [19]

Ten of the 41 witnesses, who were all either former or current Communist Party members at the time, protested against the committee. The “Hollywood Ten” refused to cooperate with HUAC and cited the First Amendment while they denounced the committee. The Committee fined each of the ten $1,000 and sentenced them up to a year in federal prison. On top of this, all of the witnesses were fired by a group of studio executives. [20]

Besides the “Hollywood Ten,” other members of the industry with communist ties were also banned from working with major Hollywood studios after HUAC continued its investigation throughout the 1950s, and after one of the accused, Edward Dmytryk, decided to cooperate with the committee while in prison. Dmytryk testified at a HUAC hearing and provided the committee with the names of 20 people he believed to be current or former members of the Communist Party. [21]

SAG members held a vote in 1953 to require all actors joining the labor union to commit to an anti-Communist “loyalty oath.” The vote passed with 96% in favor. [22]

Contemporary Period

The Screen Actors Guild has also been criticized for telling its members to vote a certain way. Actor Renee Carlson noted that she had received emails from the Screen Actors Guild and “left-leaning organizations in the entertainment business telling me how to vote. Nobody tells me who to vote for. I vote for more than just who is good for my career. I vote for what’s best for my entire family, and family trumps career and is only second to God in my home.” [23]

Controversies

2000 Advertising Strike

The Screen Actors Guild led a six-month strike against advertisement companies in 2000. The strike intended to end the flat-fee system for advertisements on cable television, as SAG was looking for actors to be paid whenever their advertisement aired on cable, like how actors received residuals on network television. [24]

The six-month strike cost members of the Screen Actors Guild and other unions approximately $2 million per day. The unions did not gain residual pay for actors appearing on cable television advertisements; however, actors would receive an increase of 140% in pay for those advertisements. [25]

Despite the Screen Actors Guild strike, golfer Tiger Woods and actress Elizabeth Hurley both appeared in advertisements during the six months. Woods, who shot a non-union advertisement in Canada during the strike, was ordered to pay a $50,000 fine. [26]

Hurley was ordered to pay a £70,000 fine (approximately $87,500) after she appeared in a perfume advertisement for Estée Lauder. Hurley said that she was unaware of the strike as she was based in the United Kingdom. She also did not receive any money for the advertisement due to an all-in deal she has with the company. [27]

Pension Embezzlement

Nader Karimi, the former chief information technology officer for the Screen Actors Guild Pension and Health Plans, pleaded guilty to tax fraud in 2015 for filing a false income return. Karimi failed to report more than $700,000 in kickbacks he had received from contractors when he hired them to upgrade the SAG Pension and Health Plans computer system. He was sentenced to five years’ probation, eight months of home detention with electronic monitoring, and a $208,000 payment to the IRS. [28] The Pension and Health Plans’ former chief administrator, Bruce Dow, testified that although it was difficult to determine how much Karimi had embezzled, it could have been up to $3 million. [29]

The United States Department of Labor also found that more than $750,000 was misappropriated from the Pension and Health Plans in 2017. According to sources within SAG, the misappropriated funds stem from improper spending on holiday, retirement and anniversary parties, limos, meetings, and excessive spending on meals. The money was repaid by the SAG Pension and Health Plans’ insurer. [30]

References

  1. “About.” SAG. Accessed June 1, 2020. https://www.sagaftra.org/about. ^
  2. Tigas, Mike, Sisi Wei, Ken Schwencke, Brandon Roberts, and Alec Glassford. “SCREEN ACTORS GUILD INC – Form Form 990-O for Period Ending Apr 2012 – Nonprofit Explorer.” ProPublica, May 9, 2013. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/display_990/951202270/2013_03_EO/95-1202270_990O_201204. ^
  3. Robb, David. “Former SAG Pension & Health Plans Exec Nader Karimi Gets Probation In Tax Fraud Case.” Deadline. Deadline, April 14, 2016. https://deadline.com/2016/04/nadir-karimi-sentence-sag-pension-health-plans-tax-fraud-1201737873/. ^
  4. Robb, David. “Department Of Labor Finds $750,000 Misappropriated From SAG Pension & Health Plans.” Deadline. Deadline, January 20, 2017. https://deadline.com/2017/01/labor-departmentl-finds-750000-dollars-misappropriated-from-sag-pension-heath-plans-1201890902/. ^
  5. “Ronald Reagan.” SAG. Accessed June 17, 2020. https://www.sagaftra.org/ronald-reagan. ^
  6. “1930s.” SAG. Accessed June 1, 2020. https://www.sagaftra.org/about/our-history/1930s. ^
  7. “1930s.” SAG. Accessed June 1, 2020. https://www.sagaftra.org/about/our-history/1930s. ^
  8. “1930s.” SAG. Accessed June 1, 2020. https://www.sagaftra.org/about/our-history/1930s. ^
  9. “1940s.” SAG. Accessed June 1, 2020. https://www.sagaftra.org/about/our-history/1940s. ^
  10. “About.” SAG. Accessed June 1, 2020. https://www.sagaftra.org/about. ^
  11. Tigas, Mike, Sisi Wei, Ken Schwencke, Brandon Roberts, and Alec Glassford. “SCREEN ACTORS GUILD INC – Form Form 990-O for Period Ending Apr 2008 – Nonprofit Explorer.” ProPublica, May 9, 2013. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/display_990/951202270/2009_04_EO/95-1202270_990O_200804. ^
  12. Tigas, Mike, Sisi Wei, Ken Schwencke, Brandon Roberts, and Alec Glassford. “SCREEN ACTORS GUILD INC – Form Form 990-O for Period Ending Apr 2009 – Nonprofit Explorer.” ProPublica, May 9, 2013. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/display_990/951202270/2010_04_EO/95-1202270_990O_200904. ^
  13. Tigas, Mike, Sisi Wei, Ken Schwencke, Brandon Roberts, and Alec Glassford. “SCREEN ACTORS GUILD INC – Form Form 990-O for Period Ending Apr 2010 – Nonprofit Explorer.” ProPublica, May 9, 2013. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/display_990/951202270/2011_03_EO/95-1202270_990O_201004. ^
  14. Tigas, Mike, Sisi Wei, Ken Schwencke, Brandon Roberts, and Alec Glassford. “SCREEN ACTORS GUILD INC – Form Form 990-O for Period Ending Apr 2011 – Nonprofit Explorer.” ProPublica, May 9, 2013. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/display_990/951202270/2012_04_EO/95-1202270_990O_201104. ^
  15. Tigas, Mike, Sisi Wei, Ken Schwencke, Brandon Roberts, and Alec Glassford. “SCREEN ACTORS GUILD INC – Form Form 990-O for Period Ending Apr 2012 – Nonprofit Explorer.” ProPublica, May 9, 2013. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/display_990/951202270/2013_03_EO/95-1202270_990O_201204. ^
  16. Tigas, Mike, Sisi Wei, Ken Schwencke, Brandon Roberts, and Alec Glassford. “Screen Actors Guild American Federation Of Television And Radio – Nonprofit Explorer.” ProPublica, May 9, 2013. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/454931719. ^
  17. Tigas, Mike, Sisi Wei, Ken Schwencke, Brandon Roberts, and Alec Glassford. “SCREEN ACTORS GUILD- AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TELEVISION AND RADIO – Form Form 990-O for Period Ending Apr 2018 – Nonprofit Explorer.” ProPublica, May 9, 2013. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/display_990/454931719/04_2019_prefixes_39-45/454931719_201804_990O_2019041116214503. ^
  18. Dunbar, David L. “Alvah Bessie (1904 – 1985) – The Hollywood Ten: The Men Who Refused to Name Names.” The Hollywood Reporter, November 16, 2015. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/lists/hollywood-ten-men-who-refused-839762/item/alvah-bessie-1904-1985-839779. ^
  19. Dunbar, David L. “Alvah Bessie (1904 – 1985) – The Hollywood Ten: The Men Who Refused to Name Names.” The Hollywood Reporter, November 16, 2015. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/lists/hollywood-ten-men-who-refused-839762/item/alvah-bessie-1904-1985-839779. ^
  20. History.com Editors. “Hollywood Ten.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, December 16, 2009. https://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/hollywood-ten. ^
  21. History.com Editors. “Hollywood Ten.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, December 16, 2009. https://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/hollywood-ten. ^
  22. Collins, Keith. “Screen Actors Guild Timeline.” Variety. Variety, January 24, 2008. https://variety.com/2008/film/awards/screen-actors-guild-timeline-1117979576/ ^
  23. Horwitz, Simi. “In Left-Leaning Business, Conservative Actors Feel Marginalized.” Backstage. Backstage, March 23, 2011. https://www.backstage.com/magazine/article/left-leaning-business-conservative-actors-feel-marginalized-62416/. ^
  24. “Actors Strike Over Fee System for Commercials.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, May 2, 2000. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2000-may-02-mn-25766-story.html. ^
  25. “U.S. Actors Union Ends Longest-Ever Strike.” CNN. Cable News Network. Accessed June 1, 2020. https://edition.cnn.com/2000/SHOWBIZ/TV/10/23/actors.strike.02.reut/index.html. ^
  26. Farache, Emily. “SAG Fines Tiger Woods.” E! Online. E! News, November 15, 2000. https://www.eonline.com/news/40730/sag-fines-tiger-woods. ^
  27. “ENTERTAINMENT | Hurley Fined for Strike-Breaking Ad.” BBC News. BBC, December 18, 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/1075657.stm. ^
  28. Robb, David. “Former SAG Pension & Health Plans Exec Nader Karimi Gets Probation In Tax Fraud Case.” Deadline. Deadline, April 14, 2016. https://deadline.com/2016/04/nadir-karimi-sentence-sag-pension-health-plans-tax-fraud-1201737873/.

    ^

  29. Robb, David. “Department Of Labor Finds $750,000 Misappropriated From SAG Pension & Health Plans.” Deadline. Deadline, January 20, 2017. https://deadline.com/2017/01/labor-departmentl-finds-750000-dollars-misappropriated-from-sag-pension-heath-plans-1201890902/. ^
  30. Robb, David. “Department Of Labor Finds $750,000 Misappropriated From SAG Pension & Health Plans.” Deadline. Deadline, January 20, 2017. https://deadline.com/2017/01/labor-departmentl-finds-750000-dollars-misappropriated-from-sag-pension-heath-plans-1201890902/. ^
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Screen Actors Guild (SAG)

5757 Wilshire Boulevard, 7th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90036